When my cousin entered high school last year, she had a tough time adjusting. She’s always been somewhat reserved, and that made her an easy target for bullies.
She didn’t tell her family what was going on, and instead fell into a new crowd of friends that she spent all of her time with. Drinking seemed to make her new friends like her, and for a while it helped her forget the cruelty she faced at school.
She eventually got busted for drinking in her room one night, and ended up confessing that she was sadder than she’d ever been before. She’s on a better path now, but it was an eye-opening experience for her parents.
Being a teenager is difficult under any circumstances, but being a teenager who has an addiction to drugs or alcohol is even more difficult. Understanding why teens turn to drugs and alcohol is an important first step in helping them to avoid suicide, because many of the underlying causes of drug or alcohol abuse involve the same factors that lead to teen suicide. If you are concerned about your teen, here’s what you need to know.
Facts about Teens and Addiction
While it may not be a good reason, teens often abuse drugs or alcohol simply because they are teens dealing with all kinds of challenges: figuring out who they are as they transition from childhood to adulthood, making difficult choices, wanting to experiment, and lacking the experience to know which choices are going to lead to more harm than they anticipate.
Researchers have found that teens do not actually have the feelings of invincibility that the myth perpetuates; they do understand the risks of their behavior, they just think the benefits and fun are worth the risk.
The facts about teen drug experimentation and abuse are staggering:
- 50% of all new drug users are under the age of 18
- The majority of adults with an addiction first experimented with drugs before the age of 21
- Approximately 20% of high school seniors reported binge drinking in 2014, and nearly 40% had used alcohol in the last month
- More than 20% of teens reported having used marijuana at least once in the past month
- Most high school seniors do not think smoking marijuana occasionally carries any risk
- Nearly 40% of teens who abuse prescription medication obtain the drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinet
- 1 in 5 teens has abused prescription medication
Teens often turn to alcohol and drugs because they want to self-medicate. They see getting high or drunk as a way to escape their problems or ease their pain. They use substances to be more social or comfortable, to make life more bearable, and to fit in with their peers.
The Link Between Teenage Addiction and Suicide
Teenage suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens in the United States.
A study by the University of Southern Illinois’ Core Institute found that students who drink or use drugs are significantly more likely to have suicidal tendencies than their sober peers.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that nearly 10% of drug-related trips to the emergency room for adolescents involve attempted suicide. In many of these cases, access to prescription drugs was to blame. The study also found that teenage girls are nearly three times more likely than boys to attempt suicide for drug-related reasons.
Tips for Helping Addicted Teens
It is critical to help addicted teens receive the help they need and deserve. Professional treatment is necessary to help teens work through the issues that led to their addiction and/or suicidal thoughts in the first place. The following tips will be helpful in getting your addicted teen the help they need.
- Contact an addiction specialist or local drug and alcohol treatment facility for guidance in confronting your teen and determining the best treatment options. Call sooner rather than later.
- Determine which treatment program is best suited for your teen. With guidance from the specialist or treatment facility officials, in- and out-patient treatments are available. Some programs include a combination of treatment and medication to help your teen get sober and handle their depression and suicidal thoughts. There are also alternative therapies that are growing in popularity.
- If your teen has run away, establish a plan and goals for visiting and discussing treatment options. Consult with professionals as needed.
You can help an addicted teen work through his or her underlying issues and addiction if you make an effort to understand the problem and find the most appropriate treatment. If you have any fear your teen’s life may be in danger, get help now.