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Youth and Substance Abuse

The Crisis of Substance Abuse in Our Youth

As substance abuse in America continues to rise year over year, a very pressing concern is not just fear for our struggling brothers, sisters or friends, but for our children. While adults make up the majority of users, youth, typically between ages 12-17, are a growing population. Teenagers are finding new and creative ways to obtain illegal substances in school, off the streets and sometimes in their own homes. These young experiments lead to young addictions and eventually, long term complications. Teachers across the country have endless stories of catching youth smoking marijuana in the bathrooms, or in some neighborhoods, going so far as to snort cocaine directly off their desks.

In this blog, we discuss the growing crisis of substance abuse in our youth, as knowledge is the first step in progress.


To understand the situation facing our youth, let’s take a look at the numbers. The statisics surrounding underaged substance use is staggering, especially when you consider that some of these individuals are only 12 years old.

  • In 2018, about 24% of young people have tried illegal substances.
  • It is most common on school property.
  • In 2020, about 47% of teenagers tried an illegal drug before graduating high school.
  • 11% of alcohol consumption in America is estimated to be consumed by binge drinking teenagers.
  • As with adults, an enormous amount of substance abuse comes in the form of painkillers – approximately 695,000 teenagers abused opioid pain medications in 2018.
  • Benzos and prescription stimulants are also heavily abused by teenagers – 460,000 abusers of benzos and 369,000 abusers of stimulants.

These statistics and many more can be found at As you read through these numbers, remember that the majority of these children are attempting to hide their behaviors from their parents. They are rebelling, or, trying to fit in. Many are using it as an escape from a reality in which they do not feel at home. For so many reasons, they do not get the help they need and most go untreated. That is why if you notice odd behavioral changes in a young person that you know or love, it is so critical to reach out to them and try to help.

How do Drugs and Alcohol Affect a Young Person?

Consumption of drugs, alcohol and tobacco carry similar risks for youth as it does for adults. However, the major difference is that teenagers, especially younger ones, are still growing, maturing and developing. Youth who start using substances before they’ve even finished puberty have the highest risk of damaging their development, and while it does reduce slightly thereafter, drugs and alcohol continue to harm the body’s growth.

Drugs in our High Schools

Whatever their reason may be for trying drugs, the fact is that a large majority of youth are offered or purchase their drugs right in their own high schools. As rules begin to loosen, marijuana has become even more accessible to children and teenagers than ever before. Though it was always one of the highest consumed drugs among the younger age groups, it is now more so than ever. In addition to smoking or ingesting it, teenagers ase now also vaping it in large quantities. Marijuana use has also shown a very high correlation with poor academic performance – 48% of regular marijuana users in high schools received Ds and Fs in their classes.

Due to overwhelming academic pressure from parents, teachers or the perception of needing perfection to get into high ranking colleges, performance enhancing “study drugs”, such as Adderall and Ritalin are commonly abused by students. Just as with any prescription drug, prescription stimulants are addictive and harmful if abused or taken without need.

Teenagers who abuse drugs early are far more likely to become substance users as adults, develop long term addictions, or reap the negative and harmful effects. As the brain is still in development during this critical growth period, abnormalities, memory issues and cognitive impairment are much more common when drug abuse starts in high school. Young adolescents will also begin to lose important chemicals, like dopamine and serotonin, through abuse. This begins a cycle of depression and self destruction.

Underaged Drinking

Possibly even more dangerous than underaged drug abuse is underaged drinking. Research indicates that nearly 33% of all teenagers have consumed alcohol underaged. Just as with drug use, this comes with physical side effects, lowered cognitive function and academic failures. Unfortunately there are even greater risk factors involved with drinking in our youth.

Some of these risks include:

  • Drunk driving and vehicle fatality
  • Increased risk of self destructive behaviors
  • Increased risk of unsafe sexual behavior
  • Increased risk of STDs and unwanted pregnancy
  • Increased risk of sexual or physical assault
  • Increased risk of long term alcoholism
  • Significantly decreased brain development

Many of these issues, such as the high percentage of underaged drunk drivers or increased teen pregnancies, affect everyone. The consumption and abuse of any substance at any age is dangerous, but the problem of youth and underaged drinking may be one of the most devastating. If you know or love someone who you fear may be abusing alcohol underaged, or is engaging in dangerous behaviors as a result of alcohol, you need to get them the help they need. A conversation, phone call or intervention could save lives.

Warning Signs

So, what are the warning signs that a youth is abusing drugs or alcohol? Many of them would be similar to the ones you would expect from an adult user. If you notice some or any of these signs or symptoms in your child or the child of a loved one, it is important to start communicating and asking compassionate questions, in hopes to get your loved one to open up and accept help.

Some signs to watch out for:

  • Sudden academic decline
  • Poor hygiene
  • Physical appearance changes such as weight fluctuations
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Losing interest in things they once enjoyed
  • Changes in social circles
  • Clothing or breath smelling of smoke or alcohol
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Missing curfew
  • Acting suspicious or secretive

What Can Parents Do To Help?

So what can you do as a parent to help your child? How can you prevent early substance abuse? The biggest preventative measure any parent can take is to simply be a good role model. By not consuming or over-consuming alcohol in your home, or in front of your kids, and by eliminating destructive behaviors such as smoking or using drugs, your positive behaviors help to mold your child’s perspective of how to behave.
Other ways to establish a good relationship of communication in your household:

  • Be positively involved in your child’s life
  • Make communication open and comfortable about all topics
  • Get to know your child’s friends and their friend’s parents
  • Avoid letting your children attend parties in which substance abuse may occur
  • If you see a problem start to occur, communicate with your child effectively and with love
  • If the problems persist, seek professional help before it gets out of control

Every parent wants what is best for their children. Sometimes, there are bumps in the road. Love and kindness is the number one way to make sure that you are doing all that you can for your children.

Reach Out

If you or a loved one has a dependency or addiction to any substance, please reach out to us about your detox and treatment options. Royal Life Centers admissions staff is available 24/7 to answer your questions and address your concerns. We can be reached at (877)-RECOVERY or 877-732-6837. Because We Care.

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