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Drug and Alcohol Abuse Among Adolescents

Why Use Drugs?
There are many theories on the causes of substance abuse. They range from a genetic basis to personality characteristics. Drug or alcohol abuse in children usually seems to be a symptom of confusion, unhappiness, or alienation. Let's look at four general areas of characteristics often seen in these children.

  • Lack of self-discipline. Children who lack self-discipline often show a lack of internal control and responsibility. They have a self-centered, pleasurable approach to the environment, and feel little personal or social responsibility. These youngsters are often impulsive, act before they think, and have difficulty adhering to duties and responsibilities imposed by others. Trouble with authority figures is frequent and they show poor academic performance because they lack a sense of responsibility. They often set very high goals for themselves, but do not have the self-discipline or knowledge of the process necessary to achieve these goals. An example is a child who tells me he is going to go to law school, make a lot of money, and own a big home and expensive cars. However, the reason he's in my office talking to me is that he wants to quit high school. Youngsters like this know how to set goals, but don't know how to achieve them.

  • Lack of motivation. Some teenagers appear to lack interest in activities, things, and events. They are disinterested in school and do not have any hobbies. They live day to day and moment to moment. They show little or no interest in personal achievement or success, or put no value on them. They don't plan ahead or show any concern for future events or consequences they may experience.

  • Unhappiness, dissatisfaction, depression, anxiety, boredom. These are frequent symptoms in teenagers who have a negative picture of themselves and see others as better than they are. They generally lack confidence in their abilities. They are unhappy in their home setting and often feel alienated and not part of their family unit.

  • Socialization problems. Teens with socialization problems usually maintain friendships on a superficial level or else do not have many friends. Often they do not have a close friend and feel isolated from their peers. They have trouble with authority, difficulties at home, and conflicts with family members. They are easily influenced by peers.

    These characteristics are typical, but not conclusive. Adolescents who abuse drugs or alcohol have different personality characteristics and different reasons for using them. Below are some of the most frequent reasons for this behavior.

  • Experimentation. Almost all teenagers try alcohol or drugs. If the child is only experimenting, this behavior will be seen very infrequently or observed a few times, then discontinued. Experimentation is the first stage in the four steps toward substance dependency. It is usually followed by occasional use, which is less than once a week, then regular use, where the child is actively involved with drinking or drugs. The final stage is dependence.

  • Peer pressure. All the teenager's friends are involved with drugs or alcohol. He may not be able to go against the influence or pressure of the peer group.

  • Rebellion. Sometimes drug or alcohol use is based on the child's tendency to rebel against parental or societal values.

  • Confidence problems. Teenagers with negative self-concept are often insecure and lack confidence. This may be the basis of some drug and alcohol usage.

  • To promote and enhance social interaction. Some teenagers who have difficulty interacting with age-mates or with the opposite sex feel that using drugs or alcohol releases inhibitions and makes it easier for them to relate to peers.

  • To mask depressive feelings. Some teenagers use drugs or alcohol as self-medication. Their emotional difficulties center around depression, hopelessness, and unhappiness. These substances seem to help alleviate the symptoms.

  • They like it. Some teens are involved because drinking or using drugs makes them feel good and they enjoy the pleasurable feeling of getting high.


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From Keys to Parenting Your Teenager by Don Fontenelle, Ph.D. Copyright 2000 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

Buy the book at Barron's.


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