Substance abuse is one of the major societal problems currently affecting many communities, families, and individuals around the world. In 2013, over nine percent of the American population had used some type of illicit drug in the past month. The numbers have only increased over time, making this a serious societal crisis.
Teenagers and young adults are the most at risk of being lured into the world of drug and alcohol abuse, as they tend to be more carefree and thrill-seeking than an average adult. They also have relatively less life experience, which means that they are often unable to comprehend the negative consequences of drug use until it is too late.
An Overview of Substance Abuse
Moreover, the phenomenon of substance abuse is not limited to the use of hard drugs alone. The excessive use of addictive substances such as opioids, OTC drugs, tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana also falls within the ambit of substance abuse. This types of addiction can have a negative effect not only on the individual but also on their family, community, and social circle as a whole.
Tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, as well as opioids and stimulants of various kinds, can affect the mental and physical health of an individual. These substances, being highly addictive, can also ruin a person physically, emotionally, and financially. Due to these reasons, schools, colleges, health centers, and communities must work together to ensure that teenagers and young adults are made aware of the dangers of substance abuse, and its potential consequences, as soon as possible.
Substance Abuse Among Teenagers and Adolescents
Teenagers and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to the allure of addictive substances for many reasons. Moreover, as the teenage brain is still developing, drug use can have long-term behavioral and cognitive effects on adolescents. As of 2017, 16.6 percent of 12th graders have engaged in binge drinking and more than 10 percent have used traditional tobacco products such as hookah and cigarettes.
Some of the reasons why adolescents are more likely to consume illicit or addictive substances have been listed below:
- Curiosity: Being younger, adolescents typically have less life experience and therefore have a greater amount of curiosity and naivety. They are curious about the world and are eager to try new things. They are also relatively unaware of the potential negative consequences of addiction and its associated problems. This is one of the major reasons why they can be easily lured into trying drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and addictive substances.
- Peer Pressure: Adolescents crave acceptance and camaraderie within their peer group and are therefore more susceptible to the effects of peer pressure than adults. As a result, they may try drugs or alcohol just to impress their friends or avoid rejection, even when they do not personally enjoy the experience. Therefore, adolescents, who are surrounded by addicts, are more likely to succumb to peer pressure and try drugs and alcohol themselves.
- Stress: The world is full of potential sources of stress and many adolescents have not yet developed the coping mechanisms to deal with stress in a healthy and productive manner. Stress caused by studies, exams, school, and relationships can all drive adolescents to try and seek relief in the form of drugs, alcohol, opioids, etc. Therefore, youngsters must be taught early on to effectively manage their emotions, in order to avoid such an outcome.
Life Skills Training for Substance Abuse Prevention
The above-mentioned facts and figures are some of the reasons why life skills training are such an important part of any credible substance abuse prevention program. Children, adolescents, and young adults need to be taught the essential skills needed for dealing with the problems and adversities of life in a healthy and productive manner, without resorting to drugs and alcohol as a crutch in times of hardship. Thus, life skills training can go a long way in helping youngsters deal with the aforementioned issues while avoiding destructive behavior like substance abuse.
Some of the core life skills taught to students at a good substance abuse prevention program include:
- Resistance: Adolescents and young adults need to be taught the necessary skills needed for resisting the efforts and encouragement of their peers to make them use addictive substances. They need to be taught how to avoid such situations where they are pressurized to consume drugs or alcohol. They must also learn how to deal with such situations if they do happen to be caught up in them for some reason, in the absence of an adult or teacher.
- Decision making: Teenagers need to be taught how to make crucial decisions within a short period of time, under stressful and dangerous circumstances. They have to learn how to weigh the pros and cons of every available option before making the choice that will be the most beneficial for them in the long term. This skill will help them say no to drugs even when it offers an easy short-term solution to their problems.
- Self-management: A good life skills training program must teach students how to manage feelings of stress, anxiety, loneliness, rejection, and alienation. Such feelings are not uncommon during the teenage years and may drive adolescents to consume drugs and alcohol if they are not properly managed and channeled in the right direction.
- Social Communication: Social and effective communication skills are essential for communicating in an effective manner and avoiding unnecessary misunderstandings. Effective communication and social skills can also help at-risk adolescents seek the necessary support and help from their community, that they need to lead a healthy and addiction-free life. Youngsters can also use their communication skills to share their feelings of loneliness, stress, and isolation with friends and loved ones.
These are just some of the reasons why life skills training is an essential part of most substance abuse prevention programs. Teachers and counselors must understand the role played by life skills training programs, in order to use them for the benefit of the students.