Adolescence is known for a time of experimentation for teens. And it should be. The development of the brain and the explosion of growth physically as well as psychologically create wonderful opportunities as well as dangers for adolescence.
One of these dangers is the experimentation that may happen with drugs and alcohol. Although not all teens will end up using substances, many will for the following reasons:
Curiosity: The burst of power and energy in the adolescent brain is also a search for what is new. The teen wants to try new things, explore the world, and role-play. They want to know what it feels like to get high or be drunk. Although this also comes with impulsivity, a parent with a deeper understanding of a teen’s brain growth might allow for more investigation of the world while curbing a teen’s impulsivity that could lead to drug use or drinking.
Peer pressure: Their friends are doing it. And teens are heavily influenced by their peer group during this stage of life. Plus, they want to be accepted by their friends and seen as someone who belongs and can be embraced by the community. This alone could play and role in a teen’s decision to drink or use drugs.
Acceptance: When teens see their parents or role models drinking or using drugs, they get the message that doing so is okay. They come to understand that drinking and drugging are acceptable, especially if the adults around them are doing it.
Defiance: Teens are in a time of testing their limits, especially those that keep them in their childhood. Teens are searching for their autonomy and independence, and for this reason are testing the boundaries placed up on them. They may want to rebel against societal rules. Part of this defiance may be drinking or using drugs, especially if the rules and regulations at home are too restrictive and don’t allow for a teen’s exploration and new independence.
Risk-taking behaviors: Some teens may have a hard time emotionally or psychologically. They may suffer from depression or anxiety or simply feel a strong sense of being left out. When teens feel a loss in their life, whether that’s a loss of stability or strength or independence, they may need to send out a call for help. Sometimes, using drugs and alcohol is a way for them to do this.
Thrill-seeking activities: Some teens may lack the experience of newness in their lives. Despite the newness and growth that is happening inside, they may continue to feel the heavy burden of responsibility or a weight on their shoulders. Or they may simply feel bored with their life. In these cases, drugs and alcohol also become an option. They want to experience something other than numbness.
Independence: At times, as a way to prove their autonomy, especially if teens aren’t able to feel their new sense of independence in other areas of life, they may choose to show their autonomy through using drugs and alcohol. This is especially true with parents that have a stricter way of parenting. In these circumstances, teen want to make their own decisions, and they may do this by deciding to drink or use drugs.
Pleasure: Perhaps this is the universal reason that drives one to drink or use drugs, regardless of age. The pleasure or high that gained is a primary motivator. In fact, this high can be the trigger for future use and even for the eventual development of an addiction.
When teens themselves are aware of these reasons behind drug use, they may be able to make a healthy choice when faced with an invitation. The above list could stimulate a sense of awareness and perhaps a choice that supports their well being. For instance, if a teen recognizes that they are interested in drinking because they are curious about what it’s like to be drunk, they may be able to let go of the curiosity, recognizing that their life will carry on just fine without getting hooked into the high of being drunk. Or if a teen recognizes that they want to drink because of they have an emotional or psychological need, perhaps they will make the choice to talk to a trusted adult instead.
Although it’s common for teens to want to experiment with drugs and alcohol during adolescence, it’s quite possible instead that adolescence could be a drug-free and alcohol-free stage of life.