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Why kids choose drugs, how to say no and alternates to drug testing

Why do kids choose drugs?

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” -Steven Covey

Do you know why most kids turn to drugs? I do. I do because I was one. I do because I’ve researched it in my job as a professor for nearly 10 years. I do because I decided 20 years ago to become a pediatric mental health nurse and work with those kids.

So, why do our kids turn to drugs? Certainly, there are a variety of answers but under it all, drugs numb their intense feelings. Our kids deal with confusing emotions like anxiety, inadequacy, shame, and rejection. They endure abuse, violence, negative social media, bullying and physical pain on a daily basis. Often they have no trusted adult to turn to. Sometimes, they’ve talked to a trusted person who unwittingly increased those feelings instead of assuaged them. Drugs are an ‘easy button’. Dealing with emotional pain is hard. Humans tend to choose the easy way out. We just do. It is especially easy when you have a teenage brain that still believes it’s invincible and the unspeakable could never happen to you.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t provide you a quick, simplified lesson on addiction. First of all, there is no way to know your brain is wired for addiction until you use a substance. After that, if you are wired for addiction, it’s too late. Just once, one use is all it takes to push the “Go” button. Unfortunately, once it’s pushed in an addict’s brain, the “Stop” button is smashed to smithereens and they spend the remainder of their life seeking the next high. It’s hard to understand if you do not have a brain that’s wired this way. Have you ever realized you don’t have your smart phone? Do you panic, frantically search for it, ask friends to call it, obsess about it’s whereabouts until you find it and then you finally feel the relief? That’s addiction. That’s low level, low risk addiction to the iPhone, but can you imagine that both drugs and phones release powerful brain chemicals that our best efforts can’t overcome?

When you understand the why, it becomes easier to understand the how. How can we help our kids abstain?

How To Say NO To Drugs

Every 80’s kid remembers Nancy Reagan and Drew Barrymore working together to encourage teens to “Just Say No”. Did you know Drew Barrymore spent time in drug rehab some years after that? All she learned were the words. Actions speak louder than words. That campaign, while with good intention, doesn’t work.

So, what if drug testing kids at school forced them to say no to drugs? The mere threat of being kicked off a beloved team if your drug test comes back positive should motivate kids from using drugs. If we were simply working from a behavioral theory, it might work. That sure would make the solution to our ever growing drug epidemic easy. Unfortunately, there is no hard evidence supporting this practice. The human emotional brain and addiction disorder are far more complicated. In fact, drug testing places a direct barrier to the things that actually do help kids abstain from drugs; extracurricular involvement and positive social interactions.

If schools are serious about keeping their students from abusing drugs, then they should consider what the experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Education Association,, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry say; one of the best ways to keep kids off drugs is to get them involved in school and extra-curricular activities. If schools and communities put their efforts into providing multiple opportunities for students to engage in meaningful, challenging, educational experiences that build self esteem and resiliency, we may see some change.

Alternates to Drug Testing in Schools

Learn to be a great listener

As a life coach, I work with people with many afflictions. One of the biggest complaints people have is that they feel no one understands them. No one really listens. Most people hear only enough to give their advice or are waiting for their chance to talk about themselves. We often miss great opportunities to actually listen. Imagine if you came home after a hard day and you had someone who just listened and affirmed how you’re feeling. Imagine if they said “tell me more” or “wow, it sounds like you really had a rough day!” Instead we often hear “why didn’t you…” , “you should have…” “that happened to me once…” Listening is a powerful tool. Our kids deal with complicated issues that we don’t necessarily need to have the answers to in order to help them work through them. Ask open ended questions like “how do you feel about that?” and “tell me more.” Then, be content to just listen.

Learn mindfulness and teach it to others

Everyone benefits from learning mindfulness practices. There are many exercises you can use to practice. I’ll provide one easy one that creates huge impact.

All you have to do is notice 5 things in your day that usually go unappreciated.
These things can be objects or people; it’s up to you. Use a notepad or your smartphone to document 5 new things by the end of the day.
As you continue your practice, really investigate each item. Inspect that flower or the chair you’re sitting in or the toast you’re eating, the cup of coffee in your hand, the smell of your favorite cologne…The point of this exercise is to appreciate what we do have.
This simple daily practice actually rewires your brain. It starts releasing happiness chemicals (dopamine and serotonin) and life soon looks a little brighter every day.


Moving also releases those feel good chemicals. When a brain is seeking out drugs, it is seeking to alter it’s chemicals and we can alter them in positive, healthy ways too, like exercise. It doesn’t have to be strenuous, just a walk in nature or around the track will do! Get out there with your favorite teen and take a walk together. It’s also a perfect time to practice your new communication skills.

Written by Christine A. Tackett, RN MSN. Christine is a certified life coach, Reiki Master and Nursing Professor at Herzing University. She owns Love Your Life Coaching LLC and is working on opening a holistic health institute soon. Her passion in life is helping people create goals for themselves that move their lives forward from functional to optimal. Follow Christine on Facebook: .


The Wadsworth Drug-Free Community Coalition exists to prevent, educate and support youth, adults and families on substance/drug abuse by providing resources and raising awareness in our community.

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