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Will Your Teen Experiment with Drugs and Alcohol?

Lori Freson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

If your teen is anything like most teens, it’s not a question of if they will try drugs or alcohol, but rather a question of when. As much as this is not what any of us parents really want to hear, it is the reality for most teens these days. It benefits parents to stay aware, keep their heads out of the sand, and keep communication open. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, by age 18, about 60 percent of teens have had at least 1 drink. And, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, a survey of 12th graders showed that 40% say they have used a drug at least once in the past year. The most common substances that teens using are alcohol and marijuana.

With this in mind, the likelihood that even “good kids” will try alcohol or drugs is pretty high. Talk to your teens about how they will decide for themselves. And how much do they really know? The more you talk to them and educate them about the matter, the better equipped they are to make such a big decision.

It is important to understand some basic facts about how all of this can affect their still developing brains and bodies. Here are some things to make sure you discuss.

  1. Contrary to what many believe, alcohol is a depressant. That means the drug itself slows down your central nervous system. It also reduces the amount of the feel-good happy chemicals in your brain. While you may feel happy and uninhibited while using, the effects last far beyond the moments in which you are drinking. If you are already depressed, or taking an anti-depressant, alcohol is a very bad choice.
  2. Alcohol affects your brain. That’s why you get slurred speech, have trouble walking, and become impulsive when drinking. But the teen brain is not fully developed yet. They are causing permanent, irreversible damage to their brains.
  3. Alcohol is processed through your liver. Drinking young can damage your liver and cause problems for you later in life. You need your liver; it cleans toxins out of your body by cleaning your blood.
  4. Alcohol has been known to cause good kids to do bad things. This is the impulsivity part. The most serious, of course, is crashing your car and killing yourself or someone else. But all sorts of stupid things can happen, and you’re setting yourself up to make bad decisions that can have lasting consequences.
  5. Alcohol can also damage your heart, pancreas, and immune system. It can even cause cancer.
  6. A study published in the journal Clinical EEG and Neuroscience reported that use of marijuana during the teen years negatively impacted: brain structure volume, quality of white matter, and ability to perform cognitive function.
  7. You are potentially affecting your emotional development, academic retention and social interactions.
  8. You increase your risk of mental problems, from depression and anxiety to suicide and schizophrenia. Ask anyone who has suffered from mental illness what it’s really like, and you’ll thing twice about using.

These are some serious things to think about, don’t you think? Teens are know for making impulsive decisions and for taking risks. They want instantaneous pleasure. Here are some tips that might help them make better decisions for themselves. Ask them to consider the following:

  • Have you done your research? In other words, do you really know what you’re potentially getting yourself into here? There are some drugs that can literally cause you to die the very first time you try it.
  • Are you doing this to impress someone else? If so, it probably won’t, and you might be upset with yourself.
  • Are you simply curious? A lot of teen experiment because they’re curious.
  • Do you think it will make you feel better and make your problems go away? It might for a brief period of time, but overall, it will simply make things worse.
  • Is peer pressure a factor here? Are you just trying to fit in? It’s hard being a teen and wanting to fit in and feel like part of a group. I understand that. But you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it.
  • Will getting intoxicated created a dangerous situation for you? For example, might you put yourself in a situation where you could get sexually assaulted? Do you need to drive yourself or others home? Are you babysitting your little brother? Think things through before you decide to use.
  • Is it worth the risk? You could lose your driver’s license, hurt someone or get yourself hurt, get grounded by your parents, fell horrible the next day which could affect school performance, and so on and so on.

At the end of the day, they’re growing up, and making more and more decisions on their own. One sign of maturity is making good decisions and dealing with the consequences of the not-so-good ones. Hopefully, your teens are making more good ones than bad ones. Ultimately, as difficult as it might be, we can’t control everything our teens do, and they will have to deal with, and hopefully learn from, the consequences of the decisions they make.

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Lori Freson

Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.