Physical Problems

Teen Drug Abuse

Teen drug abuse has been declining in the United States for the last decade, but several drugs remain a dangerous problem for many teens. Parents and other adults should know the signs of teen drug abuse so they can get help for teens who have a problem with drug use and abuse.

By the time they reach their teens, many young people already know someone who uses drugs. Some kids feel pressure to use drugs like alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana as early as 3rd grade. More kids are introduced to drugs during adolescence, or the junior high or middle school years. The percentage teen drug abuse increases through the high school years and into young adulthood.

  • Over 30 percent of 8th graders have used alcohol, and by 12th grade 66 percent of teens have used alcohol.
  • Teen Smoking: 3 percent of 8th graders smoke tobacco.
  • About 10 percent of 8th graders have used marijuana. About 25 percent of 10th graders and over 30 percent of 12th graders have used marijuana.
  • 10 percent of teens in 12th grade have abused prescription drugs. On average, 2,500 teens abuse a prescription drug for the first time every day. 

Since these teen drug abuse statistics were posted, new statistics were released for the year 2012. See how the 2012 statistics compare:

  • 3.6 percent of 8th graders have used alcohol, and by 12th grade only 28.1 percent of teens have reported getting drunk in the last month.
  • Teen Smoking: In 1996, 49% of 8th graders tried cigarettes, by 2012 only 16% had done so,  However, teen smoking of flavored cigars and Hookahs has significantly increased.
  • About 6.5 percent of 8th graders have used marijuana. About 17 percent of 10th graders and over 22.9 percent of 12th graders have used marijuana in the last month.
  • 14.8 percent of teens in 12th grade have abused prescription drugs.

The use of most drugs among teens is declining. In the last decade these numbers have gone down from almost 47 percent of 8th graders using alcohol, 10 percent smoking cigarettes, and about 12 percent using marijuana. Cocaine use declined in the 1990s from its peak in the 1980s, but it has remained steady since that time. Still, about a quarter of students say that drugs are available to them at school.

The exception to the downward or steady trend of drug use among teens is the teen prescription drug abuse, especially prescription painkillers, which has been rising in recent years. In the last decade treatment for teen prescription drug addiction has increased 300 percent. Many teens have a misperception about prescription drugs, believing that they are safe because they can be obtained legally. Prescription drugs are easy to get from medicine cabinets at home or at family or friends’ houses, meaning that many teens can abuse prescription drugs for free. Also, parents sometimes give their children another family member’s prescription painkillers without realizing the potential dangerous side effects and addiction that can occur.

Teen Drug Use Statistics show the most common drugs abused by teens are, in descending order:

  • Alcohol Abuse
  • Marijuana
  • Prescription drugs (opiates)
  • Stimulants like meth and ecstasy
  • Sedatives and tranquilizers
  • Crack Cocaine
  • Hallucinogens like LSD (acid) or PCP
  • Inhalants
  • Steroids
  • Heroin 

The drugs that are abused most commonly – alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs – may be appealing to teens because they think there is no risk involved in using them. Unfortunately, the use of any of these drugs during the teen years can have serious long-term consequences on a teen’s physical and mental wellbeing. A teen’s brain is still developing, so using any drugs during the teen years can cause problems with the teen’s growth, development, and long term health. Also, using these drugs lowers teens’ inhibitions, which can lead to other dangerous choices like driving under the influence or having unprotected sex.

Because teen drug use dangerous, parents should be aware of signs that their teen may be abusing drugs. Signs that a teen may be using drugs include:

  • Having drugs or drug paraphernalia
  • Medications or alcohol missing from your home or the home of family members or friends
  • A change in friends, or hanging out with friends who use drugs
  • Red or glassy eyes, or dilated pupils
  • Slow, slurred speech or talking unusually fast and jumping from subject to subject
  • A dramatic change in appearance
  • Lack of concern with appearance or hygiene
  • Unexplained change in weight
  • Change in performance at school or learning problems
  • Lying or acting sneaking
  • Not caring about risks, consequences, or the future
  • Being disrespectful or aggressive toward family members or family rules and values
  • Showing signs of depression or withdrawal
  • Defensiveness when questioned about activities or drug use
  • Losing interest in favorite activities 

Also, teens who are using or abusing drugs often need money to continue their drug use, though you may not be aware of their money problems. Some signs that teens may be seeking money for drugs include:

  • Valuables missing from your home
  • Your teen having unexplained money or valuables
  • Getting in trouble with the law – or teen violence
  • Stealing money or drugs
  • Borrowing money
  • Always being out of money even if they have an allowance or a job 

It is best to start talking to your teens about teen drug use before they have a problem, but if you think your teen is using drugs, it’s important to talk to them right away. Teens need help to overcome their teen drug abuse.

Physical Problems

Drug Testing Kits

Drug Testing

Parents may want to include drug testing kits as part of a family’s drug use prevention efforts, though parents shouldn’t rely on home drug tests alone to detect or prevent drug use, and many doctors recommend against home testing. Parents should learn about drug testing kits to decide if they are right for their family and situation.

Home drug testing kits generally involve taking a sample from the person and either using a test stick that gives a quick response or sending the sample to a lab that will process the test and return an answer. These types of tests are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration. The tests that are sent to labs are kept confidential and may be ready in just a few days. These types of tests are usually very reliable. When using the types of tests that give immediate results, any positive results should be confirmed by a doctor or a lab.

Home drug testing kits can be purchased online or sometimes in local stores. When buying drug testing kits online, make sure that you are purchasing from a reliable company, such as one recommended by your local doctor or law enforcement agency. Most multiple-drug tests cost around $10 each, depending on the number and types of drugs tested for, and they are often sold in sets.

The samples that may be used for drug testing can include:

  • Urine
  • Saliva
  • Sweat
  • Hair

The collection methods vary. Urine is usually collected in a cup and then a stick is dipped in the sample, similar to a home pregnancy test. A patch placed on the skin may be used to gather sweat. Swabs can be used to collect saliva to be sent to a lab. Hair samples are usually collected directly from the person and sent for analysis.

Most of these methods can only tell parents if teen have been using drugs in the past few hours or days. Hair can potentially tell about drug use for up to one or more months prior to the test. It is also less invasive. The use of hair is less well-studied, however, and things like the texture and color of hair, as well as chemicals like dyes that have been used on it, may be able to affect the test results.

Drug tests can screen for a number of drugs, including:

  • Marijuana
  • Opiates
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • PCP
  • Steroids
  • MDMA
  • GHB

Most drug tests only look for certain drugs, not for every drug a teen may be using. Alcohol is generally only detectable when the teen still has it in their system. There are some drugs that teens use that drug tests may not look for, such as some prescription drugs that teens abuse. This is one of the reasons that parents should not rely on drug tests alone to combat drug use in teens.

Another reason to be cautious about relying on drug testing kits is that some tests can be tricked. Most of the methods teens use to try to trick drug tests are not very effective, and some drug tests even detect substances that indicate that teens are trying to trick the tests. Still, parents should be aware that drug tests, though designed to be very reliable, are not foolproof. Also, tests may occasionally give a false positive. This is why positive tests should always be confirmed by a doctor or another source.

Parents may be tempted to drug test teens secretly, such as by taking a hair sample, but this is not usually recommended. Hair samples gathered secretly may be old, and may even belong to another person, such as if a friend used a teen’s hairbrush or someone at school was close enough to get a hair on their clothing. Also, testing in secret eliminates the potential of using drug testing to deter teens from trying drugs. It also may make it harder for parents to help teens if they find that they are using drugs, since the teens will lose trust in their parents and won’t be able to talk to them about their problem.

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages involuntary or secret drug testing of young people because there is not enough evidence that home drug testing is useful in combating drug use. Drug testing is not always effective at detecting drugs, and may encourage teens to use drugs that less easily detected, including alcohol. Also, involuntary or secret drug testing may destroy family relationships and do other harm to teens.

If parents are concerned that their teens may be doing drugs but don’t want to use a home drug test, they can take their child to a doctor for drug testing. This also has the advantage of including medical advice and other types of drug and health screening along with the drug test.

If parents decide to use home drug testing, it should not be used to punish teens for drug use. Instead, it should be used to find teens who are using drugs and get them help. Random drug testing may be able to help to deter drug use, and may be able to catch teens who have a drug problem. Drug testing alone, however, is not an effective way to prevent teens from using drugs. The best things parents can do to help their teens are:

  • Talk to teens about why they shouldn’t use any types of drugs and express their love and concern for them
  • Monitor the teens’ behavior
  • Set clear rules against using drugs and enforce reasonable consequences if the rules are broken

Teens who have a drug use problem need counseling and perhaps medical intervention to help them deal with their problem and overcome any addictions that they have. Parents can find counselors or drug recovery programs through their doctor or local health department. Many programs are available for no or low cost to those who cannot pay for medical services.

Drug Testing Kit Sources:
Dr. D. Bruce Burlington, US Food and Drug Administration, News and Events, [Over-the-counter Test Kits for Drugs of Abuse” [online]
National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Frequently Asked Questions About Drug Testing in Schools” [online]
American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics Journal, Policy Statement, “Testing for Drugs of Abuse in Children and Adolescents: Addendum – Testing in Schools and Home” [online]

Troubled Teen Issues

Peer Pressure

Teenage Peer Pressure

For teenagers, it can seem very important to “fit in.” Teens are very concerned about their images, and they are worried about what others think about them. As a result, peer pressure is very influential in many teens’ lives. Peer pressure is basically the influence that people your age have on you. For teenagers, it is the influence that other teens have on their behavior, dress, attitude and practices. Often, teenagers do what others are doing so that they can fit in – or at least not stand out. Teens like to do what their friends are doing, and be accepted. This peer pressure, though, can lead to undesirable behaviors.

Statistics on peer pressure

There are some startling statistics about peer pressure, and what teenagers feel pressured to do. This pressure may be fairly straightforward, with some teens pressuring others to take part in certain activities. In some cases, though, peer pressure is a little more subtle, with clues given to teens that they won’t be “cool” if they don’t participate, even without the overt pressure to do what everyone else is doing. Here are some statistics about peer pressure:

  • The Adolescent Substance Abuse Knowledge Base reports that right around 30% if teens are offered drugs in middle school and high school.
  • According to the National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 74.3% of high school students have tried alcohol.
  • 3.1 million teenagers smoke, according to the American Lung Association.
  • The Kaiser Foundation reports that about 50% of teenagers feel pressured with regard to sex in relationships. 

You can see that the peer pressure is on to engage in behaviors that may not be healthy, physically or emotionally, for your teenager. While some teens choose some behaviors when they are ready, many feel rushed into decisions that they are not quite ready to make. Many end up overwhelmed by the consequences of their efforts to fit in with their peer group. It is vitally important that you help your teenager develop the self confidence to withstand peer pressure, and make his or her own decisions.

How parents can combat peer pressure

There is always going to be a certain amount of bowing to peer pressure. Teens naturally want to project the “right” image. However, you can reduce the influence that peer pressure has on your teenagers by making the following moves:

  • Open lines of communication: It is vital that you be understanding and approachable. Teenagers are afraid to come to those who are judgmental or who will subject them to ridicule. Establish a practice of speaking with your child regularly, and listening. Sometimes, your child just needs to feel that you are listening.
  • Have clear expectations: Start when your children are young to have clear expectations for their behavior. Talk to your kids and teens about different subjects of interest. Health and Human Services reports that 59.8% of teenagers that talk with their parents about the dangers of substance use (including alcohol) are more likely to abuse such substances.
  • Know their friends: Get to know your teen’s friends. You should also try to get to know your friends’ parents. Try to make your home an inviting place for your children to bring their friends, so that you can keep an eye on them. Be there for your teen to talk to, and discuss activities that their friends may be involved in, and their inappropriateness if necessary.
  • Be involved: Show your teen that you care. Attend after school activities and sporting events. Listen to them talk about their lives. Show that you are interested in what they are doing. Take time to be together as a family. Teenagers who are involved with their families and have good support systems are less likely to succumb to peer pressure.
  • Talk about the issues: Talk about what is going on with others your kids’ ages. Talk about issues including teen drug use, alcohol, sex and other items. Talk about issues ranging from what’s going on with academics and local politics to how to make better decisions. This can facilitate conversations and help you make clear your expectations.
  • Pick your battles: Understand that some things are less important than others. Letting your teen wear all black or listen to the latest music is less of an issue in many cases. If your teen is not showing deviant behavior, and continues to do well in school, what he or she wears or listens to may not be worth an argument. Your teen will be more willing to listen to you when it really matters if you avoid nit-picking when it doesn’t. 

In the end, you need to encourage your teen to choose good friends who will be supportive of them. And you need to help your teenagers withstand peer pressure by providing a safe support system.