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Learning About Drug Use Problems and Dependency in Teens

What is a drug use problem?

Drug misuse means using drugs in a way that harms you or causes you to harm others. You can misuse illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or over-the-counter drugs.

Most of the time, a drug problem starts with casual use. You may not think there will be a problem if you use a drug once or twice. But drug use can become a drug problem and drug dependency, and it sometimes happens quickly.

Drugs change your brain's structure and how it works. Teens who continue to use drugs may develop a strong need, or craving, for the drug, and it may get harder to say "no" to drug use. You may start to find drugs more fun than anything else. Or you may want to stop using drugs but can't. You may become dependent on a drug.

If you become dependent, the drug controls your life. You may continue to use the drug even though it can harm your relationships, lead to trouble with the law, and/or cause physical problems.

Why do teens use drugs?

Teens may use drugs for many reasons. They may want to:

  • Fit in with friends or certain groups.
  • Feel good.
  • Seem more grown up.
  • Rebel against parents.
  • Escape problems. For example, teens may use drugs to try to:
    • Get rid of the symptoms of mental health problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression.
    • Ease feelings of insecurity.
    • Forget about physical or sexual abuse.

What problems can drugs cause?

Drugs can change how well you make decisions, how well you think, and how quickly you can react. They can make it hard for you to control your actions. Drug use can:

  • Make car crashes more likely. If you drive while you are high, you can easily have a crash and hurt yourself or others. Do not drive while you are high, and do not ride in a car (or any type of vehicle) with someone who is high.
  • Lead to unprotected sex and/or sexual assault. This can lead to pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
  • Cause you to do things you wouldn't usually do. You may say things that hurt your friends or do something illegal that could result in paying a large fine, losing your driver's licence, or other legal problems.
  • Cause you to lose interest in school and your future. Poor grades or lack of focus may make it harder to reach your dreams.

Drugs also can change how you feel about your life. Drug use can lead to depression and suicide.

How do you say no to drugs?

If someone offers you drugs, here are some ways to say "no."

  • Look the person in the eye and say "No thanks." Sometimes that is all you need to do. Say it as many times as you need to. Also ask the person not to ask you again: "I'm cool with my decision, so don't bother me again."
  • Say why you don't want to use drugs. Here are some examples: "I don't like how I act when I'm on drugs," "I like to know what I'm doing," "If my parents find out, they'll take my car away," or "I have to practise with my band tomorrow."
  • Walk out. It's okay to leave a party or group where drugs are being used.
  • Offer another idea. "I'd rather play video games" or "Let's listen to some music." By doing this, you might also prevent your friend from using drugs.
  • Ask for respect. Make it clear that you don't want to use drugs and that continuing to ask you is showing no respect for your opinions. "I don't give you a hard time, so why are you giving me a hard time?"
  • Think ahead. If you think you might go someplace where drugs are used, don't go. But if you do go, think in advance about what you will do if someone offers you drugs.

How is a drug problem treated?

Treatment for a drug problem or dependency usually includes group therapy, one or more types of counselling, and drug education. Sometimes medicines are used to help you quit. Teens who are dependent on drugs may need medical treatment and may need to stay in a hospital or treatment centre.

Treatment focuses on more than drugs. It also helps you cope with the anger, frustration, sadness, and disappointment that often happen when a person tries to stop using drugs.

Treatment also looks at other parts of your life, like your relationships with friends and family, school and work, medical problems, and living situation. It helps you find and manage problems. Treatment helps you take control of your life so you don't have to depend on drugs.

A drug problem affects the whole family. Family counselling often is part of treatment.

Where can you learn more?

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