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Drug and alcohol use in teenagers is on the increase, and there are some key factors in this disturbing trend. Part of the problem is that young people’s brains are still developing, so when they start using drugs and alcohol at an early age they are putting themselves at greater risk for both brain damage and chemical dependence.

One factor is the prevalence of new, harsh, experimental drugs that teens are trying in addition to the already existing drugs and alcohol. There are so many more substances for them to try than there were even a few years ago. Along with these new drugs is the culture perpetuating them in today’s music, television, movies, and video games. Celebrities will outright brag about their drug use in lyrics, about drunk driving, about casual sex with multiple partners. It is a culture of risk, of rebellion against the status quo, of the thrill of taking chances with our lives and safety. Popular phrases such as “YOLO (You only live once)” encourage young people to take risks without thinking about their long-term well-being. Teens want to be seen as cool and popular by their friends, and by the ever-growing world of social media, so they follow the trends of experimenting with sex and harmful drugs in their attempt to fit in. The over-sexualization of popular media also encourages drug and alcohol use in order to be perceived as attractive, sexy and desirable. Teens are being taught that substances and sex are the way to prove their coolness, with very damaging consequences.

Teens get drugs from their friends, but they also have access to them within the home. There are more cases of young people stealing their parents’ medications without their knowledge. They are experimenting with both illicit drugs and prescription medications, as well as toxic substances found in the home such as Tide pods – anything to numb their feelings of insecurity, sadness, anxiety, fear, boredom, loneliness. Many of them aren’t developing healthy coping mechanisms such as talking to a trusted loved one or using creative self-expression to process their feelings. Many teens aren’t learning to develop healthy discernment and judgment. They aren’t learning to be self-protective.

Not long ago, teens socialized at school dances or had house parties when their parents were out of town. Now they are having bigger and bigger parties, are attending college parties as young kids, and are even getting into adult events, concerts and nightclubs, all of which have endless supplies of drugs and alcohol. With the spread of social media, more young people are turning to these things to have fun, to be cool, to rebel, and to escape the sources of unhappiness in their lives.

Treatment at Riverside includes family therapy and workshops. Call (800) 871-5440.