Managing Stress Without Substances

Significant numbers of teenagers across America are involved in some form of substance abuse. One of the main drivers of this abuse is something normally associated with adult responsibilities: stress. Fortunately, instead of turning to drugs and alcohol — which don’t truly solve the problem in the first place — teens can turn to a variety of substance-free coping techniques. These techniques underscore the many benefits of stress management for students.

Teens, Stress and Substance Use

In a nationwide 2008 study sponsored by Partnership for a Drug-Free America (now known as Partnership for Drug-Free Kids), researchers examined the reasons why teenagers in the U.S. begin using drugs. Fully 73% of the thousands of participating teens cited school-related stress as their main motivation. Unfortunately, only 7% of American parents consider stress as a possible factor in their children’s substance intake. Just as unfortunately, people susceptible to stress reactions may also have higher risks for developing addictions if they become substance users.

Substance-Free Stress Management

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reports that teenagers have a wide range of effective options for substance-free stress management. The list of these options includes:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Maintaining a regular eating schedule
  • Learning coping skills that help offset the effects of stress
  • Actively practicing how to deal with stressful situations
  • Adjusting personal expectations that treat perfection as a realistic goal
  • Diminishing involvement in negative internal conversations (i.e., self-talk)
  • Turning to pleasurable activities to get a break from stressful situations
  • Limiting intake of caffeine (often consumed in the form of energy drinks rather than coffee or tea), and
  • Establishing a group of friends also interested in reducing stress in safe, effective ways

It’s worth noting that use of drugs, alcohol and/or nicotine can actually increase teens’ stress levels instead of leading to meaningful stress reduction.

Additional Benefits of Stress Management

The benefits of stress management for students aren’t limited to a reduced level of participation in substance use. The same skills developed to avoid drug and alcohol intake can also reduce the risks for negative behaviors and certain forms of physical illness, including:

  • Reducing general anxiety levels
  • Decreasing the risks for involvement in aggressive/violent behavior, and
  • Helping teens avoid a pattern of self-enforced social isolation

Sources Partnership for Drug-Free Kids: National Research  – 73 Percent of Teens Report Number One Reason for Using Drugs is to Cope with School Pressure, Yet Only 7 Percent of Parents Believe Teens Might Use Drugs To Deal With Stress Scholastic: Stress and Drug Abuse – The Brain Connection American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

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