Teenage drug abuse – Is it just a passing phase?

Teenage drug abuse – Is it just a passing phase?

Teenage drug abuse – Is it just a passing phase?

All too often when we speak about teenage drug abuse it is viewed as an experimental phase that they get over soon enough, in preference to it being a concerning addiction.

I know when I shared with some workmates and even siblings that my very honest and sensitive teenager had shared he was smoking marijuana, I received the following words of well-meaning support . . .

  • “My son did for a while but he has stopped so no need to worry”

  • “Marijuana is pretty harmless as it's not addictive”

  • “I did it when I was young and it didn't hurt me”

Although I know these people were trying to be supportive, I also knew what they were saying was just not true. Marijuana is not harmless, it is actually very addictive, de-motivating and can result in people becoming withdrawn and depressed, as shared in many research papers[1].

For most people who feel the need to use marijuana or any other substances, including alcohol or other drugs, there is usually something underlying going on for them that they may be struggling to accept and don't know how to handle.

With this understanding of why people might turn to drugs and alcohol, when my son shared with me about his drug use there was no dismissing it as ‘just a passing phase’ or reacting to how he could be ‘so stupid’ . . . after all, I know that he knows about the harms of drugs. Instead I simply asked him, “how did it feel when he smoked it, and was he aware of why he wants to experience the feeling the marijuana gave him”.

His answer was interesting in that he didn't like the sensation he felt when high, and especially how he felt the next day after smoking, but he did like the feeling of being able to escape the tension of life, and that he thought in that escape it gave him a feeling of connection as opposed to the intensity of the tension. This made complete sense to me, in that he had always been a deeply sensitive young man who was looking for a reprieve as he had always struggled with the way people were and the way the world is . . . ‘uncaring’ in his perception.

So for him, marijuana was his choice of numbing to escape the intensity of what he was feeling. Of course, I didn't like the fact he was part of the teenage drug abuse scene and I would have preferred him addressing what it is that hurts him about the world, but I also understood to look at it like this was something for him to choose, and that my role was to be there to love and support without judgment.

Being able to live this consistently has been a development; it's sometimes been devastating to see him after a ‘session’ as he is not the beautiful young man I know him as. It can be very challenging for us as parents when what our child adopts in the form of thoughts, behaviours or influences lessens the natural vitality and joy our child is at heart. Observing this makes it so clear that substance abuse – be it drugs, alcohol or fast food – is toxic and works to deaden, not nourish the natural lightness of our children. In this, we as parents also have a responsibility to observe how we are handling our own sensitivity, and what coping mechanisms we may be using. If we’re caught up in our own stuff then we won’t be able to see or feel what’s going on with our child; if our own light is deadened then we won’t be able to see or feel if our child’s light is deadened.

And with drug abuse, often people have to ‘up the ante’ with taking other drugs as the ‘weed’ is just not cutting it anymore, which is the route my son had also chosen. This heightened my own sadness about his choices so I have also had to heal any pockets within me of how I mothered him, and didn’t appreciate or acknowledge his sensitivity, and therefore did not truly equip him to respond to life, which may have contributed to his choices. My choice to heal my part has allowed me to be more open and understanding about the use of drugs, while being very clear that there is another way to address the perceived need for it.

Many parents who are also dealing with teenage drug abuse or even alcohol abuse know it is not ‘just a phase’ that they will get through. This is because even after stopping the drug use, this choice is often replaced with another coping behaviour such as food, sex, TV or work, instead of truly being honest about what is motivating this behaviour in the first place.

With this understanding and without condoning the drug taking, if we are open to having the conversation with our teenagers about what is going on for them without judgement, it can offer the opportunity to address what may be at the root of this choice. Of course, they may not feel ready or want to go deeper with what they are finding hard to deal with, and as parents we need to accept this as they are ultimately responsible to heal this themselves.

Our responsibility is to address anything that presents for us, and continue to see our teenagers beyond the drug abuse as the gorgeous beings we know they are at their core.


  • [1]

    Volkow ND, et al. Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use. N Engl J Med. 2014 Jun 5; 370(23): 2219–2227. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) (2014) Retrieved Jan 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827335/

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AddictionParentingDrugsRaising children

  • Photography: Steffi Henn