How can teenage drug use be prevented?

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Answered by: Thomasina, An Expert in the Drug Use Among Teenagers Category
Everyday I see students who have "checked out." They draw blank stares and vacancy signs take up residence in their eye sockets. I see more and more students under the influence and their silent cries for help are palpable. Teenage drug use is rampant and teenagers are using drugs habitually to mask pain and combat the emptiness that comes with a culture of vapidity. Teenage drug use, especially prescription drugs, is on the rise. Where are we going wrong? For years we've seen the drug prevention campaigns that teach students the facts about drugs - the signs and symptoms of drug use, the side effects and the legal consequences. I can't help but roll my eyes a bit when I see this approach. Aren't the "experts" forgetting a key discussion point? Why aren't we addressing the root causes for drug use? Teenagers need to be engaged, heard (not just listened to) and taken seriously. We are a society that targets teenagers as consumers and yet give them no voice, writing them off as silly and inconsequential.

Teenagers are stressed out and are working through a unique time in their lives both physically and emotionally. They are not children and are not quite adults either. They are told to grow up and yet they have no legal rights to adulthood. They are faced with a media that tells them how to look and act, producing enormous pressure to fit a certain mold. Teenagers witness violence in their homes and in their communities. They worry about their futures and how to support themselves in the real world. They watch their families worry about finances and how to make ends meet. Teenagers are learning to navigate friendships and sexuality. There are countless issues teenagers face on a daily basis. Teenagers are still acquiring tools, a skill-set, to solve and make sense of their problems. Drugs are an escape and they are easily accessible. As someone who has worked with teenagers for the past ten years, I would suggest that we stop bombarding them with facts and instead listen to their trials and tribulations. Let's lend them an empathetic ear. Offer teenagers positive alternatives to dealing with their worries and troubles. Encourage them to voice their stress and free themselves of burden. Let's legitimize their experiences and empower them to take charge of their lives. This sense of empowerment might just give rise to self-assured teenagers who deal with their problems in healthy and productive ways as opposed to using debilitating drugs that simply mask the underlying issues.

So often, our teenagers just need to know we are here for them and that we are ready to listen. Sit down with a teenager and you'll find they have a lot to say. Let's create a culture where our teenagers feel safe and secure approaching adults for advice. This culture is the antithesis to the closed off, secretive darkness that surrounds drug use. I propose open ears and big hearts. This is the key to prevention.

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