How Does Healthy Decision Making and Boundaries Relate to Drug Use?

~4 minute read

Risk-taking and exploration are a crucial part of adolescence and teenage years. Part of growing up is learning how to take healthy and safe risks that expand your comfort zone. For instance, it’s healthy for little kids to take risks like exploring at a playground or trying a new food. As kids grow up, other healthy risks could be trying out for a team or a play, making new friends, and managing more aspects of their lives without parental involvement. Although many teens choose to avoid the risk of trying drinking or drugs, for other teens, these years are the time when you might be starting to experience curiosity or pressure surrounding substance use. Knowing how to make healthy decisions and how to set boundaries are crucial to navigating the temptation or pressure to use drugs. 

Setting Boundaries

It is incredibly important to set boundaries and to respect the boundaries of others when it comes to drugs. Take a few moments now to think about what your boundaries are around drug use and how to confidently make those boundaries clear at a party, with older friends, or when under peer pressure. It’s far more challenging to define and defend your boundaries once you are in a situation where those boundaries are being tested. Before going into a situation where drugs might be involved, reflect on what your boundaries and values are and practice some of the strategies from the setting boundaries resource to prepare yourself for making your boundaries clear to your peers. 

Healthy Decision Making

Trying and using drugs are major decisions especially when you are underage. Illegal drug use can lead to criminal charges and major safety concerns. Every person responds differently to substances. Drugs that do not have a serious impact on one of your peers could trigger serious side effects for you or another peer. If you find yourself feeling impulsive or pressured, remove yourself from the environment to give yourself the chance to check in with yourself and make a decision that feels right for you, not the people around you.

Prescription Drugs

When it comes to prescription drugs, it’s important to remember that what is healthy and medically recommended for one individual can be tremendously dangerous for another. Often, teens and individuals feel it is safe to abuse prescription drugs. However, the side effects of these medications on individuals that they have not been prescribed for can be severe, unpleasant, and incredibly unsafe. Teens often also believe that prescribed stimulants like adderall or ritalin can help them perform better in school. It’s important to remember that the initial effects of these drugs wear off quickly as tolerance develops and that they are highly addictive. Developing discipline and healthy study habits is a far better route to sustained academic and life success. 

Performance Enhancement

The pressure to perform at your peak athletically heightens as teens get older and factors like size, speed, and strength increasingly shape success on junior varsity, varsity, and competitive club teams. The desire to secure a starting spot, to make a team, or to get the attention of a recruiter increases these pressures to perform athletically. It’s totally understandable to feel the pressure to perform and to want to maximize your performance. It also might be confusing to see elite athletes you have looked up to admit to using performance enhancing drugs. However, the negative side-effects of performance enhancing drugs can be severe and irreversible. It is not worth compromising your health, your integrity, and your athletic future to superficially improve performance in high school. Discipline, hard work, and good health are the keys to long-term success as an athlete. If you feel tempted to try PEDs, take some time to reflect on your long-term goals and values as well as how PEDs could inhibit those goals (getting caught using performance enhancing drugs could result in losing scholarship offers or getting cut from your team) and how using PEDs would compromise your values (such as honesty or hard work). 


Some teens and adults use drugs such as weed or painkillers to cope with feelings of loneliness, anxiety, or depression. It is understandable to try to look for relief from sadness or a mind that is always racing or ruminating on worst case scenarios. However, usings drugs to cope with tough emotions is a quick-fix that doesn’t offer a path to real recovery, relief, or healing. Try to find other ways to cope with challenging emotions, like watching a feel-good show, talking to a friend or family member, meditating, or seeking professional support from a therapist. It’s also important to remember that although using drugs might initially provide some relief, as dependence on substances develops, drugs often become part of the problem. 

Take a few moments to reflect – have you felt pressured to try or continue to use drugs? What types of environments or friend groups have caused you to feel this pressure? Have you put pressure on a teammate or peer to try drugs? Have you defined your own boundaries around drug use? Have you respected the boundaries of others? 

If you have felt pressure to try drugs or have had regrets around drug use, it might be time to redefine your boundaries around drugs. Is there a clear driver behind the curiosity or pressure to try drugs such as peer pressure, curiosity, desire for excitement, performance goals in school or in sports, or coping? Think about ways to resist pressures and define your boundaries as well as healthy ways to engage with desires such as curiosity to try new things, improving performance, or coping with tough emotions. If you are concerned about your drug use, your friends’ drug use, or the temptation to use drugs, talk to an adult you trust or seek support from a therapist. 

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