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Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide

Why do adolescents take drugs?

Adolescents experiment with drugs or continue taking them for several reasons, including:

  • To fit in: Many teens use drugs “because others are doing it”—or they think others are doing it—and they fear not being accepted in a social circle that includes drug-using peers.
  • To feel good: Abused drugs interact with the neurochemistry of the brain to produce feelings of pleasure. The intensity of this euphoria differs by the type of drug and how it is used.
  • To feel better: Some adolescents suffer from depression, social anxiety, stress-related disorders, and physical pain. Using drugs may be an attempt to lessen these feelings of distress. Stress especially plays a significant role in starting and continuing drug use as well as returning to drug use (relapsing) for those recovering from an addiction.
  • To do better: Ours is a very competitive society, in which the pressure to perform athletically and academically can be intense. Some adolescents may turn to certain drugs like illegal or prescription stimulants because they think those substances will enhance or improve their performance.
  • To experiment: Adolescents are often motivated to seek new experiences, particularly those they perceive as thrilling or daring.

This page was last updated January 2014

Why do adolescents take drugs?

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