Teen Substance Misuse

Without such security, these children struggle to develop a clear identity, a positive self-esteem, constructive problem-solving skills and a belief in self. Thus, they are more emotionally needy than other children, and because their efforts to have such needs met interpersonally have been thwarted, they may seek respite and relief through alcohol and other chemicals.
In addition, looked-after children may have a history of witnessing their parents misuse or abuse substances. This experience offers covert permission or approval for drug-taking behaviours, and promotes alcohol and drugs as a viable mechanism for coping with problems, socializing, or escaping pain.
Looked-after children must also deal with their status as an "outsider", as their life differs in many ways from others their age. Estrangement from their birth families, exclusion from school, involvement with law-enforcement or other authorities, the absence of a stable lifestyle in their younger years, and the presence of abuse or other traumatic incidents can all contribute to a sense of detachment and difference from their peers and from mainstream society as a whole. They are aware that they are not likely to follow the typical path to independence and success, and thus must seek out alternative routes that may or may not be effective in leading them toward achieving their goals.
The avenues of support that are available to looked-after children can also be less than adequate. Governmental policy and community attitudes sometimes work against the ultimate success of these children, in spite of overall good intentions. Therefore, looked-after children who need more support to succeed can often come up empty-handed, finding that when they are in trouble or make a mistake they receive even less support than their non-looked-after peers. Such a lack of resources reinforces a self-image that includes isolation and rebellion against the mainstream.
There are many concrete reasons why looked-after children in particular turn to alcohol and drugs. Often, they search for relief from the anxiety, stress, emotional pain, sense of loss, depression, self-blame, and shame that has built up during earlier traumatic experiences. They use a variety of substances which can provide some form of short-term relief, but not the healing they need.
Tobacco is the most available, and smoking can help to reduce anxiety, providing an alternative means to self-soothe and sometimes maintain a distance from others, including carers, who find the habit unattractive. Smoking is also a way of identifying with and belonging to the ‘cool crowd’. Alcohol is another way of demonstrating coolness, and for this reason looked-after drinkers will often pass over alcopops and other such light drinks in favour of more serious and respectable ciders, beers and spirits. They look to alcohol for an anaesthetic against fears, pain, and negative self-thoughts.
Cannabis can also provide a way to achieve more distance from uncomfortable or painful emotions. However, sometimes cannabis use is more a function of social interaction than a need to get high. If this is the case, the user would tend to smoke a spliff that is being shared with peers. if achieving an altered state is the goal, buckets or bongs are more likely to be used. Ecstasy is a drug that has been around for