In today’s world, teenagers can easily procure illegal drugs in person or online. And harmful drugs aren’t just used by troubled youth. Model students with great grades, community service hours, and extracurricular achievements sometimes seek these illicit substances. Reasons include:
- Relief from school-related or social stress.
- Fitting in with their peers.
- Being rebellious.
- Attempting to achieve a “high.”
- To perform better on tests or in sports.
Illegal drugs are unlawful to possess and dangerous to consume. Because they are often consumed recklessly without knowledge of harmful dosages, abusing them can quickly lead to addiction, hospitalization or death.
Despite their illegality, teenagers can access these substances in the following ways:
5 Ways Teenagers Can Access Illegal Drugs
1. Online Black Market
Does your teen spend a lot of time secretly browsing the internet? They may be searching for illicit drugs to buy online.
Buying these substances online is a little more complicated than purchasing items from your favorite e-commerce company. However, tech-savvy teenagers are often able to navigate the details of purchasing drugs online.
There is a well-established “darknet” on the internet. A darknet market is a website that sells illegal substances such as:
These are just a few of the most common illegal substances for sale on the darknet.
The origin of these markets lies in Silk Road, the first modern darknet market. Although it has been shut down, over 1,000 similar sites are currently in operation.
These types of markets are successful because they operate on software like I2P or Tor, which allow for anonymous communication. This anonymity can encourage your teen to seek illegal substances online, as it’s difficult to track the purchaser’s history.
Teenagers may buy drugs online because of how “safe” it appears to be. In your teen’s mind, purchasing these substances online can become justified. In-person deals can be physically threatening, so your child may view an online transaction as a safe alternative. They don’t have to meet anyone in person to obtain the substances. They also get the convenience of a front-door delivery. It’s not uncommon for buyers to receive deliveries within the same day of their purchase. This rationalizing is dangerous to your child’s well-being.
Here are some signs your teenager may be poking around the darknet:
- Stolen credit card. Cash won’t cut it for online purchases. Since your teen may not have their own credit card, they may “borrow” yours to make the illegal purchase.
- Unknown packages. Unmarked or discreetly marked packages may arrive at your doorstep. When asked about these boxes’ contents, your teen may provide a vague response or become defensive.
2. Social Media
This way of getting drugs is less formal than the aforementioned online black market, but it’s just as dangerous.
Since its beginnings, social media has been used to conduct deals. Teens will learn about who to contact from their friends and peers at school. From there, they will privately message a dealer and arrange a meetup location and price point.
Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram are just some of the platforms teens use. Facebook is an especially popular choice. This networking service has private groups dedicated to distributing cocaine, LSD, and ecstasy.
Social media is a popular way of obtaining drugs because interactions don’t have to be shared with anyone else. All messages can be deleted to prevent you from finding out about their conversations.
Searching your teen’s laptop, cellphone, and other electronic devices may sometimes be necessary. If you feel the need to check their devices, it is most likely in their best interest. They may claim that a search of their devices is an invasion of privacy. Avoid this persuasion tactic, as you should find out if they are partaking in illegal and dangerous behavior. When checking their devices, be aware of the following signs:
- Missing parts of a conversation.
- Suspiciously empty search history.
- Social media accounts with a false name.
- Conversations with people you don’t know.
- Unfamiliar slang that could stand for drug names.
3. Peers at School
Your child’s illegal drugs may be sourced from the people they encounter every day. Getting these substances directly from their closest friends can be a lot easier than finding a buyer online. Your teenager may even turn to people outside of their immediate friend group for drugs. Dealers often have a lot on hand, so they can supply product as it’s demanded.
Unfortunately, schools are a stable network for drug dealing. A 2012 study conducted by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that 44% of those surveyed knew a student who sold drugs at school. Marijuana, prescription drugs, and cocaine were cited as the three most prevalent drugs sold.
4. Capitalizing on Regional Differences
There are regional differences regarding drug use. For example, some U.S. states allow the use of medical marijuana, while others allow it to be used recreationally. It’s illegal in some states in all contexts.
If they live in a state where marijuana is illegal altogether, teenagers can get creative. They can rely on visiting relatives or friends with older siblings to provide them with marijuana. This way, it was acquired in a “legal” context and then passed on to them. Teens can rationalize this way of obtaining illegal substances, which can lead to their increased use.
The use of trusted relatives to supply drugs can be misleading. You may not even suspect them to do this for your teen. It’s important to encourage honest and open communication to prevent this from occurring.
5. Authority Figures
This source is perhaps the most frightening of them all. Although less common, it is still a way of obtaining drugs for a lot of high-school-aged students.
Coaches can provide teens with performance-enhancing drugs like growth hormones and anabolic agents. They do so to enhance athletic performance in the following ways:
- Increase endurance.
- Encourage fat loss.
- Promote muscle growth.
- Aid muscle recovery.
Coaches distribute these drugs to their players to “help” them competitively. Teenagers are pressured into taking them to meet and exceed athletic expectations.
Be mindful of these physical symptoms of performance-enhancing drugs:
- Increased acne.
- Rapid weight gain/loss.
- Increased aggressiveness.
- Male-pattern baldness.
If they’re using these illicit substances, your child may:
- Discourage communication between yourself and their coach.
- Lie about what they’re doing to become more physically fit.
Authority figures offering drugs may be the result of a lack of education. They may mean well, but your child’s coach may not be aware of the dangerous effects these substances can produce.
You can discourage this activity from beginning by:
- Not placing too much pressure on your child to perform well competitively.
- Set clear boundaries about taking supplements.
- Facilitate a conversation about drug use in your child’s school.
General Signs to Look Out For
It’s one thing to be aware of how a teenager can access illegal drugs.
But is your teenager actually ingesting? It can be difficult to tell, especially if your teenager is a mostly well-behaved and obedient child.
Look out for the following signs to determine if your child is obtaining and using illegal drugs:
Smell and physical appearance
After a night out with friends, have a conversation with your child. Does their breath, hair, or clothing reek of smoke? Are their eyes red, heavy-lidded, dilated, or otherwise different in appearance? Is their face flushed or puffy? If so, they may have been recently using illegal substances.
Changes in mood
If your teenager has recently been consuming drugs, they may be acting differently than normal. This could include:
- Hysterical laughing.
- Spaciness/inability to pay attention to what you’re saying or their environment.
- Refusal to engage in conversation when they normally would.
Acts of deceit
This sign also indicates a change in behavior. You may notice your child lie or give vague details regarding:
- Where they’re going.
- Who they’re socializing with.
- What they’re doing.
If you notice these patterns of secretiveness and deceit begin to develop, they may be using illegal drugs.
Your child may be quick to defend themselves with scarcely credible excuses and become frustrated when you question them.
It’s important to trust your child, but you also don’t want to miss any potential signs. With how easy it is for teens to access drugs, it’s important to keep an eye on your vulnerable student.
If you discover that they are using illegal substances, have a nonjudgmental conversation with them. Discuss the dangers of drug use and encourage them to be honest with you.
Preventing teen drug use: how to spot the early warning signs. (2018). (https://drugfree.org/article/spotting-drug-use/
Behind-the-screen drug dealers: your teen may be buying drugs online (2019). https://www.turnbridge.com/news-events/latest-articles/teens-buying-drugs-online#
Performance-enhancing drugs and teen athletes. (2018). https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/tween-and-teen-health/in-depth/performance-enhancing-drugs/art-20046620