Adolescent Vulnerability

The reasons for teens taking drugs are diverse: to imitate adults; to project a certain image; to escape from the world; to succumb to peer pressure and form friendships; to have fun by experiencing new emotions; to distance from parents; to satisfy curiosity and verify knowledge; to stop thinking, relax and unwind; and to know reality through direct experience without intellectualization.

Illicit drugs are available and prevalent in the lives of teenagers and offer a means for them to self-medicate their troubles. Street drugs forcibly disengage awareness from the usual egoistic and intellectual experience and are reputed to offer a way to develop intuitive knowledge, draw upon one’s inner core of wisdom, peace and joy, and escape from a cruel world. Drug users report that marijuana can sweeten and soften the world and trigger a feeling of relaxation and belonging; that amphetamines give a temporary sense of empowerment; and that psychedelics expand reality to offer a glimpse at truth. Ironically, dependence on drugs to maintain these internal states compounds the original problems and the risks of detrimental effects become ignored.

The task of the adolescent is twofold: first to establish personal identity, a sense of one’s intrinsic worth, and second, to take one’s place in the world. Expression at this time is a necessity and if that which is growing inside is not given a voice, it turns to rage. Without a formal handing over of power, the young intuitively know that they are the imminent channels through which the culture sees and transforms itself, and will someday be accountable for the operating values of their world.

Since the 90’s the influences felt by young people are more globally connected. Teens are confronted with music and film expressing violent and uncensored feelings, thoughts and actions stemming from interaction with the world. Research on substance abuse depicted in popular movie rentals shows that teenagers are regularly exposed to alcohol, tobacco and illicit drug usage as a frequent occurrence in life. 2 Teens also have immediate access to intimate sharing of real lives all over the world through chat rooms on the Internet. They are well aware that murder rates over the past ten years have tripled in their age range. They believe that there is an equal amount of danger to fear from other teenagers as from adults.12 This is a great source of stress not commonly understood or credited by parents. Mandatory school attendance forces adolescents into a world in which they do not feel safe or prepared. The dropout rates are increasing.

The nature of adolescence hasn't changed over generations but social and economic conditions have. It has become necessary to take risks in our complicated world, just to achieve conventional goals. Those who have been isolated or excluded, or who have barely survived abusive or unsupported family situations are not equipped to navigate the uncertainty of the times. Financial and domestic independence is not achieved for the majority until after the mid-twenties, necessitating relationship skills and role flexibility within the family. This is a challenge for many adults who know nothing but the traditional, authoritarian parenting style. Also, it is predicted that the current young generation will make half a dozen career changes in their lifetime, possibly requiring parental support during the transitions.

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The adolescent's expected developmental tasks include establishing a personal identity and attaining a strong feeling of security.