Substance abuse starts earlier in teens


Studies show that drug usage in teenagers is increasing while the average age of users are decreasing. Many factors come into play as to an explanation as to why this may be happening.

A very close friend of mine would always talk about why he would vape and drink alcohol. He said that he wanted to fit in with popular people in school and that he would often use these substances to forget about family problems and mental health. He was only 14 years old. It’s completely undeniable that teenagers are consuming alcohol, smoking, vaping and abusing other substances at significantly earlier ages than in the past.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that many children are already using drugs at the age of 12 and 13, with some starting at even younger ages. Very early substance abuse mostly consists of abusing alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, inhalants and prescription drugs.

Sophomore Henry Frieman of Holmdel noticed that has been starting earlier.

“When we were exposed to it, people started vaping in eighth grade; my sister’s in seventh grade and they started last year in sixth grade,” Frieman said. “People are starting younger and younger, and it’s continuing to spread. I feel like there needs to be something done about it.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 12.9% of students used illicit drugs in eighth grade in 2017. By 2020, that percentage has already risen to 15.6%. Also, in 2020, 16.6% of eighth graders vaped and 20.5% drank alcohol.

In middle school and high school, there tends to be a lot of societal pressure to fit in because adolescents develop a strong desire to be liked by their peers. This causes many students to do things they wouldn’t necessarily do otherwise. Children at the age of 12 are usually very naive and don’t understand the consequences of their actions, ignoring every warning that comes their way. More often than not, this will produce situations where students will end up abusing a substance due to peer pressure.

Stress is another reason why alcohol and drug use has become so common in younger ages. Many students are constantly under pressure, whether it be through school, their peers, mental health or their family. Oftentimes these students don’t have an outlet, and they turn to substance abuse as a way to deal with their problems. If a student doesn’t have a trusted adult to go to or a healthy way to relieve their stress, they see alcohol and drugs as an escape. While some people will recognize the long-term effects of this behavior, teens in middle school and high school might not.

Marijuana can significantly decrease the reactivity of dopamine in the brain, leading frequent users struggling to find happiness.

Sophomore Joseph Wicke of Freehold said that legalizing marijuana could mask its dangers.

“I’m not suggesting that marijuana shouldn’t be legalized,” Wicke said. “But I feel like legalizing it sets a precedent where it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s like alcohol, I can have it at a young age and I’ll be fine,’ even though it’s really meant for people 25 and up.”

Many who abuse substances at a young age end up using them later in life as well, some beginning to use stronger drugs and develop more severe addictions. Data from the National Epidemiological Study of Alcohol Use and Related Disorders found that people who consumed marijuana were more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder within three years compared to those who didn’t.

The use of drugs, alcohol and other substances is undoubtedly starting earlier in teenagers. More needs to be done about the education of the dangers of drugs, peer pressure and the mental health of students so that people can be informed and the lives of young people can be protected.