Teenage drug abuse is a serious issue. However, some people, including parents, may not realize the severity because of commonly accepted myths. For parents, it is important to get accurate drug abuse information.
1. Myth: Using prescription drugs is less harmful than street drugs.
Fact: Many prescription medications intended to alleviate pain, depression, or anxiety are just as dangerous and addictive as illegal drugs. Because of this assumption that prescription drugs are safer, many children are more willing to start experimenting with these medications. And more often than not, teenage prescription drug abuse is accompanied by alcohol consumption.
Prescription drugs are only safe when taken as directed by a doctor. The wrong dosage and/or potential interactions with other drugs, one’s diet, or physiological makeup may have damaging or even deadly effects.
2. Myth: Using alcohol or marijuana as a teenager is a normal part of growing up.
Fact: Less than half of American teenagers drink alcohol or smoke marijuana. Exposing a developing child to such substances is illegal for good reason. Besides the lasting damage it can cause to the brain, using substances can also harm teenagers’ social development.
In hindsight, people who experimented with substances as teenagers report they were “looking for something.” Trying to have a good time, simplifying social interactions, or solving problems with drugs or alcohol often means they are learning to go to those substances for help. This maladaptive learning process is not easily unlearned.
3. Myth: Drug testing will only further alienate my child.
Fact: If a child is demonstrating signs and symptoms such as isolation, sleeping during abnormal times, becoming increasingly argumentative and confrontational, or easily agitated, then something serious may be wrong. Drug testing is a starting point for discerning what’s wrong and finding a solution. Mending a tumultuous relationship with your child begins with understanding the problem.
4. Myth: Drug abuse only really happens in impoverished or low-income areas.
Fact: Studies have found drug addiction and alcoholism occurs across socio-economic levels and ethnicities. Drug abuse is prevalent in both private and public schools throughout the country. Although rates of substance abuse vary somewhat based on gender, age, and socio-economic status, about one in 10 people who abuse drugs become addicted, which is why some mental healthcare professionals refer to drug use as Russian Roulette.
5. Myth: Drug addiction is a question of moral fiber or character.
Fact: Most addicts start as occasional drug users. While some may view drug use as an immoral choice, drug addiction is a “disease of the brain,” says Dr. Alan Leshner, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. At a certain point, the choice to use becomes a compulsion. Changes in brain chemistry through drug abuse result in uncontrollable drug addiction.
6. Myth: An addict or alcoholic has to really want to be sober for drug treatment to be effective.
Fact: A majority of youth sent to treatment centers are not there through choice. When drugs or alcohol consume a person, the last thing they “want” is rehabilitation. Whether for legal reasons or family reasons, many people seeking substance abuse treatment did not make the choice alone. In fact, those who have been pressured into treatment through a process of confrontation, coercion, or ultimatum appear to do better. Studies demonstrate that the reason someone seeks treatment has little influence on how well they will do.
7. Myth: After a treatment program, an addict shouldn’t need any more treatment.
Fact: Unfortunately, drug addiction is generally a lifelong struggle. Like many diseases, relapse and remission cycles are possible. Although some people can quit immediately, or after one drug treatment program, most require long term plans with strong support and resources and even repeated treatment programs.