Why Teens Experiment with Drugs

reasons for teenage drug use

The adolescent years can be a time when young people experiment, test boundaries and try different things. This can also include trying drugs and alcohol for the first time.

No two young adults are alike, and neither are the challenges they face; however asking the right questions and being aware of the reasons why teens start using drugs or alcohol can help in avoiding a potential path to drug dependence.

Understanding the basis of substance use in teens and young adults can help parents and other adults begin a conversation about the dangers of drinking and experimenting with drugs, and strategies for minimising harm.

Reasons for Substance Use in Young Adults 


  • Peer Pressure: According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one-quarter of 14–24-year-olds will use illicit drugs*. Teens want to be accepted and fit in. When their best friend offers them drugs or alcohol, it’s unlikely that they’ll say no. Encourage your teen to keep positive company and hang out with peers who are supportive of making positive choices. 
  • Stress: Many teenagers and young adults are stressed with the pressures of getting good grades, having a social life, engaging in extracurriculars, and sometimes family dynamics. In order to cope, teens can turn to drugs or alcohol as a form of escape from the pressures of daily life.  
  • Bored: Boredom lies on the other end of the spectrum from stress. Their developing brain seeks out ways to stay entertained and substance use may seem like a convenient way to have fun. 
  • Conflict at home: Children who come from stressful, challenging or just tense homes can turn to drugs or alcohol. Some young people will take drugs to self-medicate their pain, while others will use to escape from the chaos.  
  • Experimentation: It’s not uncommon for teens to seek out drugs or alcohol to know what it feels like to be intoxicated. Other reasons may include Mental health, body image issues, trauma or as a way of coping with life. 

When does drug use become a problem? 

Drug or alcohol use becomes a problem when it causes: 

  • significant changes in behaviour (e.g., withdrawn, secretive, unpredictable, explosive, dishonest) 
  • significant changes in mood (e.g., depressed, not talking, unmotivated) 
  • disruptions to daily life, relationships, school and work 
  • money issues 
  • poor hygiene and health (weight changes, lack of energy, often sick, not looking after their appearance) 
  • withdrawal symptoms when substances aren’t used.

How to Help  

Teens may not always ask for help, and the stigma of drug use might stop them from reaching out. However, we encourage you to reach out to a struggling teen to offer support. 

If you don’t know where to start, consider the following recommendations:  

  • Ask open-ended questions and listen with a non-judgmental attitude 
  • Keep prescription medications locked up and safely dispose of medications you are no longer using 
  • For young people who admit to having trouble quitting substance use, help find professional support with a counsellor or a rehabilitation centre 
  • If a teen is severely harmed, get medical attention right away. 

If you are looking for support or simply to just chat through some questions, please fill out the form below or call our intake team on 0455 345 427 for a confidential chat. 

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