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Teen substance and drug abuse

Although substance and drug abuse may concern many parents, official figures show today's teenagers are actually less likely to use drugs than teens were a decade ago.

A survey of 11-16 year olds by Public Health England in 2013 found that 17% had tried illicit drugs at some point. Of these, 12% had done so in the past year and 6% in the past month.

Today's teens may also be tempted by so-called 'legal highs'. These are newer substances developed to give a high, but not yet banned.

Officials say under-18s' drug use is unlikely to happen on its own, and may be part of wider problems, such as truancy or committing offences.

When it comes to teens seeking help for drug problems, cannabis use is still the most common problem. While some parents may remember trying cannabis when they were young, some of today's forms of the drug, such as skunk, are far stronger with more of an effect on the person using it.

Why do teens abuse drugs and substances?

There are many reasons why a teen may try drugs and substances. These can range from fitting in with their friends, as 'a bit of fun', or to help escape teen stresses, such as school or social pressures.

What problems can teen substance abuse cause?

Parents will be aware of media reports of teen deaths from taking drugs or legal highs, but these are rare.

Sometimes the problem comes from changed behaviour from the drug, such as taking more risks.

The risks can be serious, but the drug advice website Frank says most teens who experiment with illegal drugs do not usually experience long-term health effects.

What are the signs of substance abuse?

The effects of drugs and substances fall into three main categories:

  • Stimulants - extra alert, extra energy
  • Depressants - relaxed, chilled
  • Hallucinogens - distorted perception.

There can also be mixed effects.

Signs of teen drug and substance abuse include:

  • Being secretive and evasive
  • Appearing drunk
  • Appearing tired, irritable and unwell
  • Less interested in things they used to enjoy.

What should you do if you find out that your teen is using drugs?

Talk to your teen. Frank says younger teenagers do tend to trust their parents when they offer support and information about drugs.

Make sure you have the facts before starting a conversation, and try to do it in as calm a way as possible.

Seek professional help if you need to. Your GP could be a good starting place.

While adults who begin using drugs tend to become regular users, teens tend to respond well to interventions, including from NHS and local authority specialist services.

Can teen substance use and abuse be prevented?

Talking to your teen about drug and substance abuse is important, so they are aware of the facts and risks, as well as the boundaries you expect them to stick to.

It can help to have the conversation early, before the age at which they may be tempted by drugs, but pick a good moment when there's no time pressure.

Avoid 'scare tactics' and make sure you know their friends to understand any peer pressure they may experience.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on December 18, 2015

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