If your teen is under the control of such dangerous substances as drugs and alcohol, you may not be interested in what’s behind his behavior: You just want to make it stop. While your desperation is understandable, any lasting change will come only when the heart issues at the root of the problem have been addressed.
Any time we’re considering why someone acts the way they do, there’s one hard-and-fast rule we need to follow: Never assume. Simply because you’ve been tempted toward the same kind of behavior (whether or not you’ve given in to that temptation), does not mean that everyone else is tempted for the same reasons.
At the same time, considering some common motivations for substance abuse can give you a starting point for discerning your teen’s heart and helping address the spiritual needs that have led to such dangerous behavior.
“Peer pressure” may be seen as a distinctively teen problem, but when we look a little deeper, it’s simply a situational outgrowth of the “fear of man,” something that predates the word “teenager” and the unique situation of modern adolescents being almost exclusively surrounded by same-aged peers (Proverbs 29:25).
In his book What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care?, noted biblical counselor and author Ed Welch explores the many forms of “fear of man” and how to find victory, beginning with a big view of God, accompanied by a much smaller estimation of others’ opinions of us. The result is that people’s opinions of us lose their power, and we’re free to make decisions for ourselves without fear.
Sometimes even teens who don’t have ready access to or pressure pushing them toward drugs or alcohol actually seek out these dangerous substances. Often, it’s because of the promise of relief from internal “noise.” That noise may come in the form of anxiety, guilt, anger, or discontentment stemming from any number of circumstances, relational difficulties, or deeply ingrained beliefs.
The temporary relief that alcohol or drugs offer are, of course, temporary (Hebrews 11:25). They also cause great damage. But even more innocuous “coping mechanisms” and forms of escape fail to address the heart issues. The noisemakers, not just the noise, need to be dealt with.
Sometimes teens are just curious and stumble into what seems like a harmless occasional “guilty pleasure.” They don’t realize the addictive tendencies or long-term cognitive and health issues that can come from alcohol and drugs, particularly during the teen years when they’re still developing both mentally and physically.
Teens don’t naturally think about long-term consequences; that part of their brains is one that’s still developing. As parents, we need to remind them of principles of sowing and reaping, along with instructing them about the dangers of addictions and the strangle holds they can have on people’s lives.