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Six Reasons Teens Turn to Drugs

Understanding the motive behind teen drug use.

Евгений Клейменов/Deposit Photos
Source: Евгений Клейменов/Deposit Photos

There comes a time in a teen’s life where he or she is faced with the single decision to take a drug. The power of that one decision is oftentimes underestimated. Some teens are able to say no and others can’t resist the urge and give in to the temptation. What makes one teen more resilient than another? What makes one teen say “yes” and another “no?”

Is the ability to withstand pressure because some teens are surer of themselves? Are teens who are confident better equipped to stand tall in the face of adversity, even if it’s not the popular thing to do? Perhaps resilient teens have healthier coping skills i.e., exercising, healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, etc., to deal with life’s problems. But what about the teens who struggle and succumb to peer pressure, what makes them choose to use?

To answer these questions, all you have to do is ask a teen. Below are six common reasons teens cite for choosing to use alcohol and drugs.

Reason 1 – Appeal

Teens can be influenced by the power of persuasive marketing. The drug and alcohol industry does an incredible job of making their products appealing to potential users. Unfortunately, they are catching the eyes and minds of youth with their products. For example, studies on youth alcohol consumption have shown time and time again that exposure to alcohol marketing affects teen drinking behavior. There’s little doubt alcohol advertisements, media images, and celebrity endorsements of alcohol play a role in youth drinking behaviors.

Likewise, drug use in the media, can powerfully change the perception and attitudes of teens. Studies have shown many teens who see drugs being used in the media begin to associate use as not being a big deal. Drug use is still widely shown on media venues and young eyes are watching. According research of the movies teens watch, 93% show alcohol use and 22% reference illicit drugs. Plus, on television, alcohol is the number one drug portrayed, appearing on 77% of TV episodes. Alcohol shows up every 14 minutes on music videos. So, media exposure and marketing do have adverse effects on a teen’s choice to use drugs.

Luciano De polo/Deposit Photos
Source: Luciano De polo/Deposit Photos

Reason 2 – Short-Term Escape

The adolescent years are a time of self-exploration. These times can be complicated and confusing in a youth’s life. To top it off, today’s teens have a lot on their plates. Many teens have to cope with family problems, friendship struggles, problems with school, and the list goes on and on. These teens often lack healthy coping strategies to get through life’s difficult times. While drug use may appear like a short-term solution it can become a long-term problem.

Reason 3 – Relief and Self-Medication

Too many teens today struggle with emotional problems.

Did you know?

Between 10% to 15% of teens have symptoms of teen depression at any one time.

Approximately 8% of teens ages 13-18 have an anxiety disorder, with symptoms commonly emerging around age 6.

Approximately 6.4 million (11%) of youth 4-17 years of age have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011.

Teens who struggle with emotional and mental problems are especially vulnerable to becoming susceptible to the luring power of alcohol and drugs. Sadly, these youth will do anything to find relief no matter how short-lived it is.

Reason 4 – Acceptance

We all have a desire to be accepted in life and it’s no different for a teen. In fact, the need to be accepted is probably most sought after in the adolescence. The adolescent years are a pivotal time in life when teens are trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into life's grand scheme. Many teens desire a lot of friends and popularity. This strong desire to be accepted and liked can make it extremely difficult to say “no”.

Youth who lack confidence may feel alcohol and drugs help them come out of their shell. They build their identity on who they are under the influence, rather than who they really are. Sadly, these youth often convince themselves that people like them more when they are high or intoxicated than when they are sober.

Reason 5 – Rebellion

When teens feel trapped by parental pressures, it’s not uncommon for them to rebel. Rebellion can come at a high price. When a teen rebels he/she feeds an internal rage; a rage that has no conscience. It tells them to go ahead and do what they want and not even think about the consequences. Sadly, rebellious teens may gravitate toward drugs which in turn feed their aggression.

From seeking independence, to finding a way to calm their intense emotions, teens who rebel have nothing to lose and everything to gain, or so they tell themselves. Their “screw you” attitude can quickly turn around and “screw them”.

Reason 6 – Curiosity

Sometimes the desire to try drugs is a satiated need to satisfy curiosity. When no one is home and the liquor cabinet is unlocked, what better time to explore what it feels like to get drunk? When your friends are sitting around getting high, what’s the big deal if you take one or two hits? These youth often convince themselves that one time won’t hurt anything, or better yet, they tell themselves, “everybody else is doing it so why can’t I?” They feed themselves lies to justify their unhealthy behavior.

Lev Dolgachov/Deposit Photos
Source: Lev Dolgachov/Deposit Photos


No one ever said the adolescent years were easy. In fact, to many youth they are the most turbulent years of life. From friendships to after high school plans, the complexities of a teen’s life can become overwhelming. It can be difficult to sort through life’s problems alone. Teens need mentors to help them navigate and cope with stress. The teen years can be a long and winding road with many sharp curves and blind spots. It’s important to help them steer in the right direction and if the situation ever arises to use drugs they will do the right thing and refuse.

This article originally appeared on my Pro Talk page.

More from Raychelle Cassada Lohmann Ph.D.
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