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Teen Stress: 4 School Factors That Influence Substance Abuse

The teenage years are often depicted as being full of fun and freedom. However, teenagers today are exposed to far more stress than many adults realize, and just going to school exposes teens to situations that can leave them feeling overburdened. Unfortunately, many teens turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with unmanaged stress. This is why parents and educators should be aware of these stress factors that happen at school so that they can take action to prevent teen substance abuse.


Today’s teens have more extracurricular options than ever before, which is great for keeping them busy. However, the increasingly competitive college application process often causes teens to feel as though they must take on more activities to maintain their edge. Trying to juggle volunteering with sports and academic clubs can leave teens with no time to relax and just be a kid. Adults should watch for signs that a student is dealing with too much stress from extracurricular activities such as staying up late to complete homework or claiming that they do not have time for family activities.

Test Anxiety

Standardized testing has transformed the academic arena, and teenagers often feel as though their self-worth is tied up in a test score. From worrying about not passing their classes to stressing out about how their scores will look on a college application, teenagers are sometimes ill equipped to manage their anxiety. Some teens may also be tempted to try drugs for the first time to pull an all night cram session or stay awake for their test the next morning.


Teenagers who are the victims of bullying often fail to tell the adults in their life what is happening, yet entering the school building often feels like they are walking into a battle zone where their self-esteem is the target. Teens who are bullied experience a drop in their self-confidence, and they may be more willing to enter a negative peer group out of a need to fit in. For this reason, it is important to be able to recognize the signs of bullying in teens so that prompt action can be taken to stop the behavior.

Peer Pressure

Running with the wrong crowd has always been a risk factor for teens to start using drugs or alcohol. However, parents should be aware that the increasing pressure to look cool on social media can cause teens to engage in substance abuse. At school, kids may view images of their friends partying on their smartphones and think that everyone is engaging in this behavior. Teens can also meet friends who encourage them to do things such as get high before school. This is why parents and teachers should encourage teens to be involved in positive activities before and after school that connects them with friends who do not abuse drugs.

For parents, it can be scary to think that the one place you should be able to trust your child at is also the one that generates a lot of stress. However, it is possible to teach your teen stress management techniques that minimize the negative effects that going to school can have on their health and happiness. By making it clear that teens can find positive ways to deal with stressful issues at school, they will be less likely to turn to substance abuse as a way to cope.

About the Author:

Dr. Jeff Nalin, Psy.D.

Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. Dr. Nalin is the Founder and Clinical Director of Paradigm Malibu and Paradigm San Francisco Adolescent Treatment Centers. He has been a respected leader in the field of emotional health, behavioral health and teen drug treatment for more than 15 years. During that time, Dr. Nalin has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.