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Substance Use in Adolescence

Adolescence – transitioning from childhood to young adulthood - can be a difficult time. It is not uncommon for preteens and teens to experiment with substance use as they navigate this confusing transitional period. Many teens may look to substance use for self-medicating their ADHD, anxiety, depression, school problems or other emerging concerns. Whether this self-medication takes the form of vaping, marijuana, alcohol, or any other kind of substance, it’s important for parents to take the time to discuss the risks of substance use with their child(ren) and other, healthier ways they can cope with the changes taking place in their lives. 

Risks Of Substance Use

E-cigarettes and vaping are some of the most common substances teens are using to self-medicate. Most teens believe that vaping may make them feel calmer or “happier.” Ensure that your teen understands the many risks associated with vaping, such as the following: 

  • E-cigarettes contain high levels of nicotine and one is almost equivalent to a full pack of cigarettes. 
  • Since these devices contain high levels of nicotine, they are very addictive. The addictive aspect of this drug is especially concerning for teens as their brains are still developing.
  • Use of one addictive substance as the brain is still developing can lead to the use of additional addictive substances. 
  • The use of e-cigarettes can make it harder to focus and can shorten one’s attention span. 
  • Vaping can cause lung irritation that is normally seen in smokers and those with lung disease. 
  • Vaping increases heart rate and blood pressure, and in turn, can make your teen more anxious in the long run. 

Another common substance teens use is marijuana. Teens tend to use this in hopes of helping their anxiety, depression, or ADHD. Some of the risks associated with marijuana use are as follows: 

  • Marijuana use has been linked to causing or worsening symptoms of psychosis, which is a mental state characterized by a distorted perception of reality. 
  • Marijuana also impairs learning, memory IQ, and attention, and affects school performance. 
  • Marijuana use is linked to causing panic attacks and increasing symptoms of anxiety. 
  • Marijuana causes poor judgment, slow reaction time, impaired driving, and increased risk of injury. 

A third common substance for self-medicating is alcohol. Many teens may drink alcohol in hopes of escaping from feelings of depression or to avoid unwanted feelings. Some of the risks of alcohol use include: 

  • Impaired brain development, especially in adolescence.
  • Impaired functioning and decision-making that can lead to a greater risk of injuries to oneself or others, especially if driving is involved. 
  • Elevated risk for physical and sexual violence. 
  • Increased aggression or social problems. 
  • Disruption of normal growth or sexual development.
  • Increased risk of suicide or homicide. 


Ways To Avoid Substance Use

While substance use can provide temporary relief from feelings of depression, anxiety, ADHD, or other mental disorders and unwanted feelings, the escape does not last and can leave a person dealing with harmful long-term effects, as well as worsening symptoms of the existing mental disorders they were hoping to escape from. Here are some tips for ways you can help your child avoid substance use: 

  1. Talk to them. You can never intervene too early. Casual drug use can quickly turn into excessive use or addiction. Talking to your children and knowing what’s going on in their lives will allow you to help them navigate their situation. 
  2. Encourage them to be honest. Show understanding by being calm and expressing that you’re coming from a place of concern. This will make your children more likely to be honest with you about what’s going on so that you can help. 
  3. Establish rules and consequences. Establish reasonable rules for your kids when they are out or at a party that may include substance use. Set consequences for if/when those rules are broken. Coming to an agreement on these consequences with your child in advance can help prevent future rebellion.
  4. Know your teen's activities. It’s important to know your child’s whereabouts to make sure they are safe and that they can keep in touch with you. 
  5. Provide support. Offer praise and encouragement when your teen succeeds. A strong bond between you and your child may help prevent substance use. It’s important that they have someone they can trust. 
  6. Focus on the behavior, not the person. Emphasize that substance use is dangerous, but don’t make your child feel like a bad person because of it. Remember, most teens may be using substances as a way to self-medicate deeper feelings that should be addressed in a more productive way with the help of an adult. 
  7. Check-in regularly. Spend time with your child and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If they feel that you care about them, they’re more likely to open up about what’s going on in their life. 
  8. Seek professional help. If you suspect that your teen has a substance use problem, contact a doctor, counselor, or other health care provider for professional help. 


Substance Use Group At CMS/CHS

If you feel your child may be struggling with substance use or self-medicating with substances, the Chillicothe Middle School and Chillicothe High School will be holding a group called Reduce The Risk beginning Tuesday, January 24. District Social Worker Leslie Hamman, MSW, LSW is teaming up with Scioto Paint Valley Mental Health and their Chemical Dependency Counselor Angela Clark to provide substance abuse counseling groups every Tuesday during all four CMS and CHS lunch periods in room 108. Reduce the Risk helps support students who are utilizing unhealthy coping mechanisms, like vaping, and help build self-confidence, and students will face no disciplinary action for attending. To become eligible for participation, students can self-refer by emailing The first session on Tuesday, January 24 is an open house where any students can join to learn more about replacing substance abuse with healthy coping mechanisms.

To learn more about substance use in teens, visit: