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What are the major influences on substance use and abuse?

Sheila Dunnells
Addiction Medicine
Teens initially smoke cigarettes and use illegal drugs to fit in. Hanging with the “druggies” stands-in for team activities. They form a not-so-elite club that welcomes everyone, as long as everyone is smoking, snorting or drinking something!

Parents should know that the social culture for pot in high school differs from the social culture for alcohol use. Pot use is on a daily basis, usually between classes. At the end of the day, potheads cannot concentrate on much, let alone chemistry or higher math, and a-motivational syndrome takes hold. Alcohol use among teens, unlike pot, is usually relegated to Saturday night and it is rarely brought into school.

At first, the government targeted pot as a gateway drug. Experts believed that recreational use of pot would eventually propel kids into using harder drugs. Today, pot smokers are using it to such a degree that it is not a gateway drug to something else; it can stand alone as a highly addictive drug. There is a reason kids call it chronic.

The antidote to drugs is helping children develop a strong sense of self, faith in the family's rules and mores, respect for their parents, and participation in outside activities in which a young person can excel, feel good about, and enjoy.

Although we might be aware of the risks involved with using alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, we may still use them. Why? There are three major influences:

Product Promotion: One of the most compelling influences on us is the media's relentless promotion of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Ads, movies, and television shows try to make us think that these substances will bring us health, happiness, success, sophistication, and freedom - the very things that their use can, in reality, diminish and destroy.

The tobacco industry has a long history of marketing to women and girls, dating back to the 1920s. Tobacco companies began marketing brands specifically designed for women in the 1960s and 1970s, with advertising that equated smoking with independence, sophistication, and beauty. The marketing of brands called "slims"and "thins"played into the social pressures on women to control weight.

Personal and Social Pressures: We have never been short of reasons to smoke, drink, and use drugs. Here are some of them: To organize our social relationships, to carve out time for ourselves, to control our emotions, to create an image, and to have a source of comfort and dependability in our lives.

Addiction: Another reason we use drugs is addiction. We may be afraid to stop, or we may not be able to give them up. We may not know where or how to get help; there may not be an available drug or alcohol program. Many obstacles can get in the way of finding the support and treatment we need. These may be related to depression, or not having people in our lives who support our desire to get well, or having friends who use. Those of us who are mothers often fear we will lose custody of our children when we seek help. Many of us deny that our substance use is a problem. We may be punished or blamed for the consequences of our use, and our guilt and shame can immobilize us. Many women feel that giving up substance use is like losing a friend. Some of us may want to get help but are afraid we will be rejected because of being lesbian or transgender. We should not give up hope. Girls and women do work through these barriers and report that supportive relationships with professionals, family, and friends were the key to getting help. Seeking help sooner, rather than later, also makes the journey easier.

Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era

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Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era

America's best-selling book on all aspects of women's health With more than four million copies sold, "Our Bodies, Ourselves" is "the" classic resource that women of all ages can turn to for...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.