Last updated: November 22, 2021
We’ve all heard the alarming reports of the steady rise of deaths due to drug overdose since the onset of the pandemic. Still, you might think that the rate of adolescent drug use would have dropped over the last year and a half. Most have been home with their parents way more than not!
The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) put out a survey to see if that is the case.
As a matter of fact, a shocking 46% of the 1,054 high school students whose results were used in the survey findings said they used drugs or alcohol with their parents during the pandemic. However, 93.3% of those used alcohol with their parents rather than drugs. Breaking it down even further, 25.8% of those who drank with their parents were binge drinking.
The NCBI pointed out the fact that it’s unclear if this behavior was going on prior to the onset of COVID-19. Either way, though, it’s concerning news.
These permissive attitudes and behaviors between parent and child will extend past the end of the pandemic. The negative effects this behavior has on many—if not all—in this age group is going to be long-lasting. Moreover, when drinking with their parents is the “norm,” this group of adolescents was much more likely to engage in dangerous drinking behaviors when away from the home.
Adolescents who drink with their parents were less likely to use cannabis than those who used with friends.
Other revelations that came to light
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) lists five reasons for adolescent drug use. They didn’t change when the pandemic had everyone social distancing and locking down in our homes.
They want to fit in
Many teens begin using drugs to fit into a social circle that includes drug-using peers. The survey showed this to especially be true for those teens who self-admitted that they were popular. It seems these students worried they would lose that popularity status if they didn’t stay in social contact with their peers.
These teenagers were far more likely to use drugs and drink with friends via technology. They also posted about using drugs and alcohol on their social media pages.
This was consistent with the hypothesis suggested before distributing the survey. It stated that “popular adolescents play the biggest role in modeling mild-to-moderate risk behaviors.” Lastly, adolescents with average to high popularity were more likely to engage in solitary substance use. Meanwhile, adolescents who weren’t as popular were more likely to engage in face-to-face substance use with peers.
It makes them feel good
People abuse drugs because they interact with the neurochemistry going on inside the brain producing a sense of euphoria. Addictions form because as our brain and body become tolerant to them, users must keep upping the dosage to obtain the desired effect. That puts them at an increasingly higher risk of an overdose, as well.
They want to feel better
Adolescents suffering from depression, social anxiety, stress-related disorders, and physical pain may begin using drugs as a coping mechanism. This is especially true if they have witnessed their parents using drugs or alcohol in the same manner.
Pressure to excel
There’s no question that our society is very competitive. We put pressure on our kids to perform athletically and academically—many times without even realizing we’re doing so thanks to cultural “norms.” Some adolescents turn to drugs, such as prescription stimulants or even methamphetamines, because they believe these substances will enhance or improve their performance.
Once they reach adolescence, kids naturally gravitate toward seeking new experiences, especially those that appear thrilling or daring. Drug and alcohol use is certainly in the realm of temptations that are put before them.
If they like the experience, they’re in danger of facing a life plagued by addiction because the brain builds up a tolerance. In other words, it accepts the effects of the drug as being “normal” after a period of time. If it doesn’t detect the substance, it begins to send out distress signals to the body—otherwise known as withdrawal symptoms.
Where to go from here
The NCBI determined that since this survey was conducted relatively close to the start of the pandemic, the results may not capture adolescents’ established routines at this point in time. Future research is planned to examine adolescent substance use trends across time as the coronavirus continues to affect daily life. It was also noted that the data collected was primarily from Caucasians so it’s unclear how the results pertain to other cultures and populations.
Despite these points, the overall consensus is that adolescent drug use during the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t diminishing. Additionally, an alarming number of parents are allowing their children to use alcohol as a coping mechanism. That behavior spreads to using drugs with them as well in some instances.
The fact that drug and alcohol use increased on a solitary basis is another concerning factor.
Education is key
The best way to fight drug and alcohol use among adolescents, teens, and even adults is through continued education.
Bringing the adverse effects of substance abuse to light can be the catalyst that causes them to decide they don’t want to risk forming an addiction to drugs or alcohol. The risk is higher in some than others because everyone is born with some form of predisposition to addiction. Even so, people who use drugs repeatedly over a period of time can form addictions to them as well because it changes the physiological makeup of the brain.
The description of not being able to think any further than “the end of the nose on their face” fits many adolescents. It means they act impulsively. We need to get their attention and open their eyes to some facts.
Doing so can help them weigh the dangers of using drugs and alcohol with the alternative—living a drug-free life. Showing them the difference between the two, coupled with positive role models—whether it be their parents or another adult figure in their lives—is a big step toward them choosing to follow the road that is, sadly, becoming less and less traveled.
We’ve got to point them in that direction, at least, and, then, do all we can to help them navigate life from that point on.