The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2021 World Drug Report stated that over 36 million people worldwide suffer from drug use disorders. The early use of substances is associated with abuse problems later in life – most adults struggling with addiction first experimented before they turned 21.
Whilst recent figures for misuse in teenagers show that the numbers have come down since the late 1990s, they are still shockingly high. In the USA almost 10% of teenagers aged 12 -17 have used drugs in the last month. In the UK around a third of teenagers aged 17 will have tried cannabis, half of them regularly binge drink alcohol, and 1 in 10 has tried a harder substance such as cocaine.
In a UK government report, which studied young people entering treatment for substance misuse problems, the two most common features were that they started using drugs before they were 15 years old, and polydrug use – which is the term used to describe the use of more than one substance at a time or successively, this includes illegal drugs, prescription medication and alcohol.
The use of both legal and illicit drugs among teenagers and young adults is widespread, they like to experiment, enjoy taking risks and pushing boundaries. However, substance misuse is one of the biggest risks to a young person’s health and growth – both mental and physical. Since a teenager’s brain is still developing, drug use can have long-term effects on their cognitive and social abilities.
All drugs have the capacity to cause serious harm, some can be addictive, and using drugs increases the chance of being involved in an accident or participating in risky and dangerous behaviour. Statistics show that cannabis is the most widely used substance, followed by alcohol, and then so-called “party drugs” such as ecstasy, cocaine, and ketamine.
The UNODC report also indicated that the number of adolescents who perceive cannabis as harmful has fallen by 40% over the last 24 years. Worryingly over the same period, the strength of the drug has potentially increased by up to as much as four times.
This is evident in the numbers of people seeking help for cannabis addiction and other associated medical problems, and the rise in the numbers of individuals reporting cannabis-induced psychosis – particularly adolescents and young adults.
There is no single explanation for why anyone abuses drugs, it can be down to one specific factor or a combination of reasons. Generally, individuals use substances to change the way they feel – to make themselves feel better or to stop feeling bad, to make themselves perform better, or to fit in with their group of friends.
Two of the most common reasons for teenagers to start using drugs are curiosity and peer pressure. They want to see what it is like; this is especially true if all their friends or the group of people they hang out with are experimenting, or regularly using substances.
The most frequently reported motivators for adolescents and young adults to continue with drug use are stress and a desire to escape – this could be down to what’s happening in school, pressure at college, or something that is affecting them in their home life.
There is often a misguided belief that alcohol and drug problems only occur in young people that are a product of a broken home or have been raised in areas of low income and high unemployment. This is simply not true, drugs cross all class and socio-economic lines, addiction and abuse can happen to anyone, at any time and can have a serious impact on someone’s physical and psychological well-being.
It can be hard to tell if your adolescent is just struggling with hormone changes and being a typical teenager, or whether there is something more serious going on.
Some common signs of teen drug abuse to look out for include:
• Doing badly in school or at college.
• Loss of interest in hobbies, activities or previously enjoyed pursuits.
• Red rimmed and bloodshot eyes, a constantly running nose.
• Rapid changes in mood, laughing for no reason, agitation, or anger.
• Poor hygiene and a lack of care over their personal appearance.
• Avoiding eye contact, secretive behaviour.
• Getting the munchies, or frequently hungry.
• Smell of smoke on breath or clothes.
• Changes in sleeping patterns, unusual tiredness.
• Staying out late, missing meals or curfews.
The first step is always to try and have a conversation with your teen. Sometimes just explaining your fears and concerns is enough to get them to open up to you. For others further help may be required, try speaking with your GP or local healthcare provider to see what support is available.
At our luxury residential rehab centre, based on the beautiful Spanish island of Ibiza, we offer a range of therapies for the treatment of substance abuse problems and drugs (such as cannabis and cocaine) and alcohol addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders.
Call us for immediate help:
Phone: +34 664 443 433
(24/7, English speaking)