Lack Of Consistency After Divorce Leads Some Teens To Alcohol, Marijuana Use
In September, I was intrigued during a workshop with teens to hear that a lack of consistency after parental divorce
had led a number of teens and their peers to start using pot and to start drinking.
I conducted this workshop at the Weld County Prevention Partners (WCPP) Solutions Summit in Greeley, Colorado, followed by a teen panel presentation to the adult attendees. Primarily an adult conference, everyone I met there was enthusiastic, committed and dedicated to the prevention of underage drinking and drug use. The statistics, however, were daunting as usual. The Summit was concerned with all underage use, and in particular, the increasing number of adolescent girls having their first drinking episode between 12 and 14 years of age. Youth, male or female, who start drinking between 12 and 14, are 4 times more likely to become problem drinkers/alcoholics in their later years. I was intrigued by the candid remarks of teens during an hour-long discussion session I conducted prior to the teen panel. I worked with a group of approximately 15 teenagers in 9th thru 12th grades from several different high schools across the county. They shared without reservation. Several teens said they began and continued to use pot and/or alcohol to manage the feelings of confusion and inconsistency in their lives when parents divorced. All the teens agreed that divorce creates a significant emotional need in teens and many use pot and/or alcohol to cope with the impact of parental divorce on their family lives. Teens agreed that pot can provide a consistent way to feel OK, even good. It is that consistency they seek – whether to consistently feel close with friends or to consistently relieve the depressed moments. In addition, the teens shared stories similar to those I have heard all across the United States:
- Pot is sold in the school bathrooms during the school day.
- Kids go off campus and drink during lunch.
- It is extremely difficult to attend a party where alcohol and/or other drugs are not present.
- Students who do not drink or use are sometimes un-invited to parties to avoid parents showing up.
- Alcohol is extremely easy to get:
- Adults outside liquor stores will buy it for them.
- Older siblings share it, even encourage younger teens to drink or smoke pot.
- A number of parents will supply alcohol at teen parties in their homes if the teens agree to turn in their car keys and stay all night. This includes parties as young as 9th grade.
- Pot and any other desired drugs are equally easy to get during the school day. All a child has to do is mention it to the right person.
- If a child doesn’t have the money, teen drug providers will often front them the drug to encourage usage.
- Emotions were considered a primary ingredient in alcohol and drug use by every teen in the group.
- Learning healthy emotional coping skills was a novel and much desired idea.
- If a teacher will reach out and ask a student why they seem to be down or not doing well, it can help, even save a teenager’s life. Teachers see students everyday. A number of teens felt there was no one better to assess changes in a teen from alcohol and drug use than teachers. Teachers do help by getting a teen with personal problems to the counselor. Such support can keep a teen from using or attempting suicide, as it had for some teens in the discussion group.
- Teens agreed that they need adults who will help them talk about tumultuous feelings involving family, peers, childhood pain/grief/loss because otherwise, in their eyes, alcohol and drugs are all they have.
- Teens made a constructive suggestion: Schools could have a 30-minute period each day after lunch where students meet in the same group in a circle and share a little about what’s going on in their lives. It would take time to establish trust, but it could create the environment they need to talk things out with others and see that others are dealing with emotions, too.
What became clear to me during my discussion with these teens is they all seem to have a conscious need to “consistently feel good,” especially if/when their family life lacks that “feel good” consistency. If their lives are unpredictable and volatile, many teens will seek drugs or alcohol to manage the difficult ups and downs. The issue of creating consistency for teenagers can be a focus in the classroom
. Teachers who create consistency in discipline, expectation, scheduling, safety, encouragement and acknowledgement in the classroom may not realize how important their efforts are to teens. In addition, counselors may wish to consider making support groups “for teens of divorce” a priority in their plans since divorce can have such a serious impact on teens.
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