If you’re a parent or guardian of a teenaged individual, you’ll likely be planning how to discuss important issues with her — such as safe sex and knowing how to navigate temptation or peer pressure situations. However, your teen may already have discovered the drug scene for herself. Because it’s a sensitive subject, talking to teens about drug paraphernalia and the sticky issue of teen drug use can seem difficult. Below is a discussion of some important issues associated with the incidence of drug use among teenagers in Western cultures that can provide insight into how best to tackle the subject. Typical drugs and their associated tools also will be covered.
Types of Drug Paraphernalia and Corresponding Substances
In most cases, the drug culture of young people is relatively straightforward. Depending on the socioeconomic spheres in which they move, they’ll be exposed to a variety of substances that tend to be most popular in their class. This is, unfortunately, a distressing cross-section of how drugs are tailored to cultural intolerance — crack cocaine tends to be most associated with less affluent segments of society, as are a number of dangerously augmented or artificially created street drugs. Alcohol use is seen across all demographics and status brackets — and, while sometimes subject to markers of rank, tends to be used as a means of social leveling.
Among those individuals who enjoy dancing, “raving” and clubbing, ecstasy is a dangerous drug that has garnered intense popularity for its ability to enhance sensory impressions and feelings of pleasure. In many communities, marijuana, salvia and spice smoking or consumption is an incredibly popular way to flout authority, a behavior that’ll be discussed further down. Less common among teenagers are drugs such as cocaine, heroin and peyote, but this article will outline what you may see if your teen has been drawn into using these substances.
Marijuana, Salvia and Spice: While these substances can be ingested by mixing them with food or brewing them as tea, most teens prefer to smoke them. They may invest in a water pipe or bong. This glass creation uses a water chamber to purify the smoke from a small amount of ignited matter, the resultant vapor of which is then inhaled. Because these bongs are often expensive and tend to advertise their purpose, it’ll most likely be stored out of sight where it won’t be damaged — if a teen has obtained one. More likely, teens will have cigarette rolling papers or a small pipe, which they use when they wish to indulge.
Cocaine and Crack Cocaine: In terms of powdered cocaine, you’ll want to look for mirrors or hard, smooth surfaces and razor blades. This is because the cocaine must be cut into lines before sniffing can be done. Lengths of tube or rolled money may be used to inhale the powdered drug. With crack, a great deal more preparation — hence, more drug paraphernalia — is required. It must be heated and the vapors inhaled. Teens may use a spoon and glass tube for this, often with a rubber segment of tube to prevent burns from the heated glass. Small metal or glass pipes are also used, similar to marijuana but with larger receptacles for the drug.
Injected Drugs: Heroin, opioid pain pills and other injected substances require the storage of needles, tourniquets and often cleaning supplies that enable reuse of needles — such as rubbing alcohol, betadine or iodine. Simply owning these materials, even in the absence of drugs, is a criminal offense in the United States.
If you discover these drug paraphernalia among your teen’s belongings, it can be shocking. However, there are ways in which you can approach your child about drug use, using the discovery both tactfully and beneficially. First, understanding the reasons why teens often experiment with drugs can help you craft your conversation, so that both of you will come away from the encounter with substantially improved rapport and relief that the sensitive topic has been successfully broached.
How to Approach Teen Drug Use
The teen years are an odd time in Western cultures. While children are increasingly expected to cope with adult topics of experience and levels of responsibility — towards themselves, their families and their communities — they’re often still treated as children and denied the benefits of full adult status. There’s no rite of passage that formally confers upon them the rights and benefits of adulthood in return for acting as an adult. This can lead to some very tense interactions between parents and children — rebellion for its own sake, dangerous behavior, secretive actions and other now typical adolescent patterns.
Teen drug use is an extremely common method of asserting the right of the teen to make her own decisions about actions and habits. The taboo nature of all drug use, even those which are socially sanctioned such as alcohol and tobacco, is a hallmark of this struggle for ideational power and command of destiny. The issue with teen use of any substance is that the choice to use is often ill-conceived. Biologically, the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for intersocial behavior and decision-making, isn’t fully mature until the age of 25.
In any peer group at any age, pressure to conform and the struggle for status is a natural process. For teens, one of the ways in which status is acquired is by emulating what’s popular or through excessive risk-taking behavior. Teens who choose to play it safe are often stigmatized by the rest of the peer group, and status is lost. When you sit down with your teen, keep these things in mind:
• While teens are still seeking their preferred identities, their personalities are already fully formed. Give them the credit they’re due.
• Don’t treat the use of drugs as stupid or childish. It’s anything but that — rather, it’s a recognizable trait in an individual seeking to establish separateness from her parents.
• Approach your teen and the situation as one adult to another. Outline the issues with the habit calmly, and ask her if she feels there’s anything she’d like to contribute to the discussion.
• If your teen has gotten in over her head, and yet feels she’ll lose status if she seeks help to stop the dangerous habit, take that seriously. Approach the problem with empathy. How would you feel in a similar double-bind?
While teens do lack experience upon which to base sound judgment, they’re no longer children. They need to know that you’re acting from love and concern, but also understand the dangers of drugs. If you need further information about a particular substance, helplines can be an excellent place to start. Having the right information can mean the difference between success and disaster when you’re ready to talk to your teen about drugs. Call the hotline at 800-447-9081 for information, resources and support. Professionals are here to help you and your teen get through this and come out on top.