How Old Were You When You First Tried Drugs or Alcohol?

Did you know that over 90 percent of adolescents say getting alcohol and drugs is easy? Or that experimenting with drugs or alcohol prior to age 15 increases the risk of developing a substance abuse disorder by more than six times? From alcohol and cigarettes to legal and illegal drugs, the risks to health and well being are serious.

An Early Start

Although many consider experimenting with alcohol, drugs and other substances a normal adolescent behavior, kids who try these psychoactive substances put themselves at risk for developing addiction. While teenagers may appear nearly full grown, their brains are still growing. Early substance abuse negatively affects memory, learning, decision-making and other executive functions. When your teen learns to connect pleasure and reward with alcohol and drugs, he or she establishes a pattern that can be extremely difficult to break.

More alarming is the fact that the average age to start experimenting with drugs and alcohol is 13 to 14. Nearly half of all students know someone who sells drugs — including prescription drugs, cocaine and ecstasy. Most students felt confident they could procure alcohol, cigarettes or drugs within a day at most. About 30 percent of students surveyed reported having tried alcohol, while more than half of those reported getting drunk. The bottom line? Your kids think getting drugs and alcohol is easy — even if you don’t think they have access.

Preventing Teen Substance Abuse

You probably already know that keeping an open dialogue with your teen about drug and alcohol abuse is an effective weapon in the war against substance abuse. Did you also know that teens who eat dinner with their families at least five to seven times per week are twice as likely to avoid trying drugs? Also, kids who use addictive prescription drugs to get high are far more likely to get those drugs from a friend or family member — not from a dealer at school or on the street.

You can keep your kids safer by:

  • Keeping an eye out for signs of depression and/or anxiety. There is a well-established link between these common mental and behavioral health disorders and substance abuse.
  • Keeping close tabs on prescription medications such as painkillers, anti-anxiety medications, anti-seizure medications, sleep aids and attention-related medicines such as Adderall.
  • Maintaining an open, trusting relationship. Teens are at least twice as likely to use alcohol or drugs when they do not have a close relationship with their parents.
  • Limiting access to and monitoring activity on social networking websites such as Facebook and Instagram.
  • Learning about lesser-known signs of substance abuse. Watch for empty bottles of chemicals such as solvents, cough and cold medicines, aluminum foil, small plastic bags and paper bags.
  • Staying sober yourself. Genetics and environment strongly influence teen behavior. Always use alcohol responsibly, don’t smoke, dispose of unwanted prescription drugs safely and never use illicit drugs.

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