Young Women and Drugs: Under the Radar?
When it comes to drugs and alcohol, parents typically pay attention to their sons for good reason. Conventional wisdom has shown us that boys are more likely to use drugs. However, attention on boys-only can leave parents less attuned to the warning signs of drug abuse from their daughters. Plus, feelings of discomfort lead us to avoid conversations with our daughters about drugs.
Despite promising reports from the National Institute of Drug Abuse of an overall decline in teen drug use, parents have to come to grips with the unfortunate reality that young women are now using drugs at an earlier age than ever before, narrowing the gender gap that existed in drug use.
An in-depth study carried out by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) revealed that about 45% of high school girls drink alcohol, more than a quarter binge drink and smoke cigarettes while 20% report using marijuana. This means that if you have a daughter aged 13 and above, chances are she has already been exposed to alcohol or drug use and the probability increases the older she gets.
Why Do Girls And Young Women Use Drugs?
Like most parents, you’ll want to know what drives girls to take drugs in the first place. According to the CASA study, young women commonly initiate drug use during adolescence.
The adolescent years are a time of significant growth and development as young women start forging their identity, a sense-of-self and their self-worth. Your daughter is also likely to be transitioning from middle-school to high school and this, coupled with the physical changes of adolescence, can leave her vulnerable to the following risk factors of drug use:
- Low self-esteem.
- Depression, stress and inability to cope with changes.
- Increased peer pressure.
- Eating disorders.
- Trauma from sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
- Increased academic pressure.
Risks Of Drug Use Among Young Women
Unfortunately for our daughters, early experimentation with drugs can increase the likelihood of addiction. Even worse, young women have been found to get hooked faster and suffer more serious consequences of drug abuse and addiction sooner than young men. They are also more susceptible to cravings and report higher relapse.
Addiction affects women differently from men and leaves young women at a higher risk of:
- Becoming suicidal.
- Increased susceptibility to alcohol-induced brain damage as well as lung damage from smoking.
- Engaging in risky sexual behaviors leading to unwanted teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
- Falling victim to sexual assault.
Talking To Your Daughter
While substance abuse might be on the decline among teens, their perception about drug use is gradually changing too. With drugs such as marijuana gaining more social and legal acceptance, it is now radically important to educate your daughter on the dangers of taking drugs. Even if you’re not asking yourself, “Is my kid smoking weed?”…it’s time to get prepared. Substances considered as “natural” as pot can have serious consequences that can persist throughout your daughter’s life.
In addition to talking with your daughter, you should learn to identify the common signs of drug abuse in teens. Commonly, teens do not want to talk about drugs or alcohol. However, signs that your daughter might be mixed up in substance use should be a serious red flag. Signs of a drug problem can include:
- plummeting grades
- changes in sleeping or eating habits
- withdrawal from family and friends
- decreased interest in things they previously enjoyed
- decreased enthusiasm for life
Above all, trust your instincts. If you suspect there is anything going on with your daughter, don’t hesitate to get her the help she needs. Reach out to a trusted medical professional, such as your family doctor, a psychologist, an addictions counselor, or a spiritual advisor. You are not alone!