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Factors That Influence Teenagers to Substance Abuse

author image J. Lucy Boyd
J. Lucy Boyd, RN, BSN has written several nonfiction books including "The Complete Guide to Healthy Cooking and Nutrition for College Students." She is frequently called upon to provide career guidance to medical professionals and advice to parents of children with challenges. She also loves teaching others to cook for their families.
Factors That Influence Teenagers to Substance Abuse
Factors That Influence Teenagers to Substance Abuse Photo Credit BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

Many teenagers get high from abusing substances which range from diverted prescription drugs to street drugs to inhalants to alcohol. Some of these teens will go on to a life of addiction, abusing increasingly dangerous substances. Some teens will have more short-lived experience, as abusing a drug or other substance even one time can be fatal. Parents and interested adults should examine the factors that lead teenagers to abuse substances in an effort to prevent this risky behavior.

Peer Pressure

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that peers have a large influence on drug-abusing behavior. Many teens use drugs for the first time to avoid being stigmatized by their friends or to impress others. The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign advises that the best way for teens to avoid succumbing to peer pressure is to be prepared in advance with ideas of what they want to say. Parents can empower teens by role playing situations. The parent assumes the role of the drug-using peer and the child practices reacting to being pressured into participating in drug use.

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According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, scientists recognize that genetic predispositions to drug abuse exist, but they have yet to pinpoint the specific genes involved. This may have to do with a brain "feel good" chemical called dopamine, and a person's gene-controlled relationship with it. While one teen may try a hallucinogen one time, a teen genetically predisposed to have addiction problems may desire to use it again and again as they naturally derive more pleasure from dopamine or have a deficit of it to begin with. While scientists figure all this out, parents should strongly caution teens who have might have a genetic relationship with a drug addict or alcoholic about avoiding substance abuse.


Growing up in a family that emphasizes getting "high" from legal or illegal substances can cause an adolescent to think drug use is acceptable. Mayo Clinic explains that this unhealthy family influence may be a factor in a teen's initial drug experimentation. Exposure to family members who reach for a substance to cure every pain or ailment can cause a teen to do the same. Teens get many of their values from parents and other adult influences, and often mimic what they see. Its never too late to establish healthier family traditions and set a good example for teens.

Thrill-seeking Tendencies

Teenagers who have a tendency to seek thrills and adrenaline rushes may be at higher risk of abusing drugs due to the "high" feeling that is achieved from early substance use. While everyone enjoys a rush of feel-good chemicals from appropriate sources, some teens get a feeling from drugs that causes them to continue their use despite negative consequences. If a parent sees a pattern of thrill-seeking behavior in his child, he can discuss safe outlets for it versus unsafe drug use.


Some teens, like some adults, reach for substances as an attempt to relieve stress. This can be the root of substance abuse in adolescents with underlying mental conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety disorder. Child abuse---past or current---can create the level of stress that triggers some teens to abuse drugs. If your child seems to be under undue stress, insist on a mental health evaluation and counseling if needed.

Low Self-worth

A teenager with low self-worth is more likely to engage in self-abusive behaviors such as drug use. This likelihood is heightened if some of the other mentioned influencing factors are also present in a teen's life. Parents can help a child find skills in which she excels to help avoid or counteract low self-worth.

Desire for Performance Enhancement

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, some teenagers begin using drugs as a misguided attempt to improve sports or academic performance. These teens often have a sense of immortality and do not feel that the drug's negative effects can harm them. All teen athletes should be educated on the dangers of performance enhancing drugs and all students should understand that doing the best they can in their schoolwork is all that is required for their parents to be proud of them.

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