Drug and alcohol use can cause tragedy across all members of society. Perhaps one of the most vulnerable groups is that of juveniles.
Teen users usually prefer marijuana, prescription drugs, alcohol, and/or club drugs to cope with stress, have a good time, and experiment with substances. A 2015 study by the National Institution on Drug Abuse stressed that over 58% of 12th graders had consumed alcohol and nearly 24% had used illegal drugs. When questioned about why they tried alcohol and drugs, most respondents just simply shrugged their shoulders.
Anyone can be affected by a youth’s usage of alcohol or drugs. Tragedies like alcohol poisoning, drug overdose deaths, DWI arrests, and medical costs are a few of the consequences of using.
But those aren’t the only possible costs: In California, if a juvenile offender is incarcerated the family can be charged a price tag of $25 per day and up. Families have gone bankrupt trying to maintain a teen in a juvenile facility.
Even if your child does not use alcohol or drugs, they could quickly become a victim of an alcohol or drug-related crime just by the friends they associate with. Trying alcohol or drugs just once before a teenage brain has developed increases the risk for addiction to substances. For example, if an individual drinks alcohol before the age of 15, they are five times more likely to develop alcohol abuse or dependence. The same statistics hold true for those who try drugs at a young age.
What happens when youth are arrested for substance use?
Kids who abuse substances experience many problems including incarceration in the juvenile court system. If incarceration is not bad enough, using drugs and alcohol causes academic difficulties, health-related issues, poor peer relationships, and loss of family.
Any offender faces potentially serious consequences when caught drinking or taking drugs illegally, but a juvenile who abuses drugs faces a stigma on their legal records that can stay with them over time. A drug conviction can kick a young person off school sports teams, cost a high schooler their scholarship opportunities, and may even lead to expulsion.
Even if juvenile courts have a broader range of options than an adult drug court, it will be difficult for a teen to erase the damage they have done to themselves, their family, and their peers for many years. No one wants to get involved in the criminal justice system at such an early age.
It's not hard to be charged with possession
To be convicted of drug possession, a teen must knowingly possess or control the substance. By merely saying “I didn’t know it was here” will not prevent an arrest. If it can be proved the teen knew the drugs were in the vicinity, they can be considered guilty of possession.
Punishments for drug possessions can include:
- A sentence to drug counseling. The goal of juvenile courts is to rehabilitate young people and keep them from becoming adult criminals. You will be sentenced to drug counseling in the hope of being rehabilitated.
- Probation can be a punishment for drug possession. Teens who have been charged must comply with specific terms. Attending school regularly, maintaining or finding a job, participating in drug counseling or family counseling, and performing community service are possibilities. Drug and alcohol offenders must stay in touch with their probation officer and freedom is curtailed.
- Diversion or informal probation is an option for drug and alcohol possession. Teens will have a list of court rules they need to follow. One positive note, once a teen has fulfilled probation they are finished. Diversion is an option for first-time offenders.
- Detention is a strict sentence for a juvenile who has been charged multiple times with alcohol or drug possession. Detention may involve home confinement, placement with a foster family, or incarceration in a juvenile home or detention center. If robbery or violence is involved in the drug and alcohol violation, the risk of being sentenced to detention is even higher.
Other resources for support and treatment
Teens are not alone if they have an alcohol or drug arrest on their record. There are support groups available and many of these options are voluntary – not court ordered. An adolescent who shows a judge they are already seeking help can only be a positive factor in court.
Medically-assisted detox facilities help teens taper off drugs and alcohol. Medications can also be used to help ease the effects of withdrawal under a doctor’s supervision.
Inpatient rehabilitation takes place in residential facilities—usually up to 90 days. Treatment includes detox, counseling, support groups, therapy, and 12-step programs. Medications are used to ease withdrawal symptoms, and alternative therapies are explored.
Outpatient rehabilitation consists of therapy, counseling, and medical help. Outpatient rehabilitation is part-time treatment while the teen continues to live in their own community.
Support groups set up in a 12-step program are excellent in providing a structured path toward recovery. There are specific 12-step groups designed for adolescents struggling with addiction.
The MST or Multisystemic Therapy approach offers help to rehabilitate youth arrested for—or at risk of—using drugs and alcohol. Therapists work with teens and parents in the home, school, and community to provide counseling and therapy services to solve the underlying causes of drug and alcohol misuse.
It’s been found that teens who get involved with alcohol and drugs do so because of curiosity, peer acceptance and pressure, risk-taking behavior, defiance, boredom, pleasure and independence. MST therapists use a scientific approach to combat these reasons. Building a strong bond between family members and youth is crucial to MST’s success with those who are involved with alcohol and drugs for any reason. Once a communication pathway is opened, teens are more inclined to reach out to parents or guardians about alcohol and drugs. When a teen knows the consequences of their actions and feels someone is listening, they won’t be so susceptible to falling into the tight grasp of addiction.
For more information on substance abuse, visit our substance abuse resource page by clicking here.