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Teen Life Q&A
Drugs & Addiction - Will I Be An Addict?

Q:

Is it possible to try drugs without becoming addicted? Some of my friends do X before a rave and they seem to have such a blast! I want to have the same good time but am scared of becoming addicted. My father is a recovering alcoholic and I know from Alateen that addiction runs in families. Is it OK to experiment just a little?

A:

When we think of peer pressure we always think of it in terms of "bad". We think of peer pressure in terms of pressure to; smoke, do illicit drugs, drink alcohol, have promiscuous sex, engage in criminal and quasi-criminal behaviour, do violence, join gangs, etc... We rarely think of the many "good" ways that peer pressure can influence us - and neither do the parents of teens!

There are lots of issues to address in this question, but I will start with the easiest part to answer. It seems you want somebody to tell you it is "OK" for you to try drugs, and I can't and won't do that. I will say that it is an unfortunate fact of the teen years that drug and/or alcohol experimentation is the norm, not the exception. For most teens experimenting with drugs or alcohol is just that - an experiment. Teens try drugs or alcohol, they measure the various reactions they get, and they come to a conclusion based on those reactions. Despite some pretty scary statistics, the vast majority of teens who try drugs or alcohol end up as well adjusted contributing members of adult society. Even teens who are habitual users, even abusers of drugs, can come through it all without becoming addicted. No one really knows why some people become addicted while others who use just as many drugs don't, and there is no "test" to take to see if you are one of the unlucky ones who, once you try drugs, will find it next to impossible to stop. It is all a matter of personality, circumstance and genetics.

There are 5 commonly referred to levels or categories of drug and alcohol use.

  1. Non Users
  2. Occasional or Social Users
  3. Habitual Users
  4. Abusers
  5. Addicts

Most teens who try drugs or alcohol fall in to categories 2 or 3. Social Users; use on some weekends or at the occasional party but rarely to never try drugs outside of social situations. Habitual Users; are similar to Social Users but use more regularly in social settings (ie: every party or rave) and may use at other times - they rarely to never use alone. Abusers are heavy drug users who often use alone or outside of social settings. On the outside, they appear to be very much like an addict. What separates Abusers from Addicts is the degree to which using invades their life, their physical "need" for the drug, and their ability to stop on demand. In short, Abusers do not experience the same degree of drug dependency as Addicts. This does not mean that a drug Abuser is "better" than an Addict or that it is "OK" to abuse drugs, it just means that the Abuser does not depend on the drugs the same way an Addict does. While Addicts find it next to impossible to quit, Abusers may stop suddenly and never look back. The habit does not normally take over their life, nor does it "define" who they are. They do not feel a "need" to use. Unfortunately, the line between Abuser and Addict is a fine one and it is hard to know for sure which category a person falls under until it is already too late. In fact, Abusers and Addicts themselves often don't know which category they fall under until they try to quit and can't. It is quite literally a roll of the "life dice".

That said, given your stated family history of alcoholism, I would strongly caution you against any type of drug or alcohol use. Although experimentation is normal among teens, you have a family legacy nipping at your heels. There is very strong evidence that a propensity toward addiction is in the genes. The fact that your father's addiction was to alcohol and you are curious about drugs notwithstanding, you still may have a genetic pre-disposition to dependency and addiction. Whether that addiction shows up as alcoholism or drug use is irrelevant since the cycle of addiction is about just that - addiction. The cycle of addiction is well established, and be it through drugs or alcohol, you are already a part of that cycle. The best way for you to break the cycle is to avoid anything that may jump start it in you. I think, subconsciously, you already know all this since you mentioned Alateen and your father's illness - this shows great wisdom and maturity and you should be very proud of yourself.

There is no guarantee against addiction and there are people who have become addicted after doing a drug only once. Addiction is as much a physical thing as it is a mental one and all it takes is a very small taste to get those addictive cravings going. Also, unlike alcohol, drugs are generally illegal and often dangerous. You have no way of knowing for sure that a drug is what a dealer claims, you have no way of knowing that the drug hasn't been "cut" with poison and you have no way of ensuring your "trip" will be a good one. Lots of teens have allergic or other reactions to drugs that leave them permanently disabled - something that is just as life altering as addiction. Drugs also render you incapable of making important decisions like; when you have had enough, whether to drive a car or not, whether to have sex or not, and how to properly react to what others say and do. Drug use can cause one to be sexually uninhibited, resulting in STDs, HPV, pregnancy, rape, or even AIDS. Depending on the type of drug and the way it is delivered, even a one time user can fall victim to; hepatitis, HIV, and AIDS. When on drugs you are more likely to be involved in fatal accidents or to act recklessly, causing harm to yourself and/or others. An overwhelming number of violent and criminal incidents involving teens include drugs and or alcohol use.

While drug experimentation during the teen years is normal, this does not make it "OK" in the sense you want to hear. As with any other thing you do as a teen, doing drugs can and will change you forever. Even if it is "just one time", a part of you will never be the same. Even if your experiment goes "smoothly", a piece of your innocence will die. You have to ask yourself if you are really ready to say "good bye" to your drug free self forever. Try to remember that while your friends may appear to be having a drug induced "blast" at the rave you can't see the bigger picture. I am willing to bet that they do more than a few things they regret while on drugs, that they miss a few opportunities to make new friends, and that they feel anything but great the next day. There is a reason drug users stick together and it is simple - drugs tend to close people off to others despite a reputation of "opening people up". Everything in life has a price and drugs are no exception. However, for most people, the price of drug use is higher than they ever imagined. My best advice - STAY AWAY!!!



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