Discovering that a teen is taking drugs or alcohol is worrisome. Parents not only worry about the impact on a child’s health, but also the possible impact on their future. Substance abuse by teenagers is particularly alarming when parents discover the risks associated with common drugs that are abused.

Reasons Teenagers Use Drugs

teen drug abuse
Substance abuse is always a complicated situation because the causes that make drugs seem appealing can vary between individuals and their personal situations. Even though teenagers can have a wide variety of reasons that they try drugs and continue to use them in the future, certain reasons are more common than others.

Vehicles and Drug Availability

A key reason that some teenagers use drugs is the availability that increases when they obtain a vehicle or are able to start driving a parent’s car. According to, teenagers who may not have tried drugs in the past can get tempted once they have a car or a friend has a car due to the ability to move around easily and find locations that have a lower level of adult supervision.

The availability is a key reason that some teenagers are willing to try certain substances. When drugs are easy to obtain, teenagers might not think about the potential consequences of substance abuse. Their friends might talk about the “good” feelings or they might simply develop curiosity due to the constant message that drugs are bad for them.

Peer Pressure and Drug Abuse

It is not an uncommon concern for parents to worry about peer pressure. Teenagers have a desire to fit in with certain friends or the group of teens that are popular in their school. The effort to fit in with a certain group or clique can cause them to give in when they are offered a substance.

Overcoming peer pressure is challenging for teenagers. suggests that it is the desire to be included with peers that tempts teens to try the substances. It is particularly true of teens who have moved to a new school or who are struggling to make friends in school for any reason.

Gaining Confidence

Certain substances, such as alcohol, are primarily used to help improve teen socialization skills. states that teens may feel uncomfortable in certain social settings, so they are tempted to drink alcohol or use another substance to help calm down and lose some of the insecurities that make them uncomfortable.

Developing a teen’s self-esteem and confidence from a young age might help reduce the risk, but socializing is a stressful situation, particularly for teens who are naturally introverted or may be new to the area. The effort to get along with others in a social setting can trigger the temptation to abuse drugs.

Emotional and Psychological Conditions

Emotional pain or psychological conditions are a common cause of substance abuse in teens and adults. Running from an emotionally painful situation, trauma or attempting to self-medicate with a drug when mental health conditions develop can result in taking substances that are ultimately causing more harm.

Emotional pain can stem from several different sources. Teenagers who were abused in their childhood or who experienced some form of trauma when they were young have a higher risk of abusing drugs than those who grew up in a happy home.

Mental health conditions can develop in any teenager, so the risk associated with psychological conditions can apply to any teen. Watching for signs of a mental health condition may help reduce the risk, but only if measures are taken to get the appropriate help for the situation before it can get out of control.

Transitions in a Teen’s Life states that transitions in a teen’s life can cause emotional upheaval that makes substance abuse seem tempting.


Common transitions that impact a teenager’s life include:

  • Parents who are getting divorced
  • Moving to a new town or state
  • Transferring to a new school
  • Starting puberty
  • Getting to the end of puberty

The transitions that impact a teenager the most will vary. For example, some teens may struggle with a change in schools while others will adjust easily. In cases of divorce, a teen may not be impacted dramatically if the parents were already separated or the problem was developing over years and they already expected the change.

Dealing with transitions is challenging for some teenagers and can make it tempting to try alcohol, drugs or other substances as a method of dealing with concerns, anxieties, fears or even excitement about the changes.

Although the reasons that teenagers use substances will often fall into a specific category, recognize that each teenager is different and their specific reasons for trying a substance will vary. The common causes may not always apply to every teenager who chooses to try an illicit drug or alcohol.