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Help! My Teen Wants to Vape and Smoke During COVID Lockdown

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

Coronavirus is stressful. We get that. It’s annoying that schools are closed. That, if you’re a senior, you won’t get to have a real graduation from high school. Students are missing prom, end-of-the-year trips, birthday parties, and all the other milestone celebrations that COVID-19 has postponed or eliminated. It’s stressful for adolescents not to be able to hang out with their friends or romantic partners, and to deal with all the social distancing restrictions. It’s scary that people are getting sick – and sometimes dying – all around us.

One coping mechanism some teens use to deal with the stress – albeit an unhealthy and damaging one – is substance use.

Teens may be more inclined to smoke or vape nicotine, marijuana, or other recreational substances that they think will decrease anxiety or calm their mind. And some parents aren’t sure if they should be as strict as they were, pre-COVID.

If their teen begs them, shouldn’t they just give in?

We have an answer to that question.

Evolve Treatment Centers says, in no uncertain terms, no.

That’s a clear, decisive N-O.

Parents should not give in to teens who beg them for permission to smoke or vape during the coronavirus pandemic.

Why You Shouldn’t Smoke During Coronavirus

First, COVID is a respiratory illness. According to the World Health Organization, people who smoke (or vape) are at higher risk for developing the disease. And if they do get infected, the symptoms may be more severe, because of pre-existing damage to the respiratory system.

“While smoking is always unwise among teens, right now—with the risks of COVID— it is an even worse choice,” says Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Executive Clinical Director of Evolve Treatment Centers “Now is not the time to adopt a behavior that will impact your respiratory system.”

As a disclaimer, she adds that it’s never a good time to smoke:

“Inhaling fire intentionally is always a bad idea.”

Words to live by.

There are other ways smoking can increase the possibility of teens catching the virus.

“The act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips, which increases the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth,” the WHO says.

Additionally, teens often smoke among friends, in communal and social settings, despite the regulations designed to prevent such gatherings. During these Coronaparties, teens are at an increased risk of sharing hookah mouthpieces or vapes with each other.

Does Smoking/Vaping Relieve Stress?

And if a teen claims marijuana helps their anxiety?

We have a good answer for that, too: anxiety is not always a bad thing.

During the coronavirus pandemic, anxiety is not only normal, but somewhat necessary. Anxiety is what helps us adjust our behavior to take the necessary steps to keep safe. Anxiety motivates you to wash your hands when you walk in the door, and anxiety keeps us from hugging our friends and passing them the virus. It also motivates us to adhere to government and public health guidelines. A measure of anxiety is necessary in order to protect ourselves and our families during this pandemic. A lack of anxiety might mean you’re not keeping yourself – or your community – safe.

But fair enough: too much anxiety is unhealthy.

If a teen really struggles with debilitating levels of anxiety and they feel like they can’t function, there’s a solution – and it has nothing to do with smoking, vaping, or any illicit substances.

In fact, substances like marijuana may make the situation worse, long-term – but that’s a different topic for a different article.

So, what will help?

While there are no guarantees in mental and behavioral health, we know three things that have a very, very, high likelihood of helping:

Therapy. Mindfulness. Exercise.

And if things are more serious, then the answer may be a teen treatment center. Intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, or residential treatment programs can all help teens learn to cope with the symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

If your teen needs mental health treatment for anxiety or depression during the coronavirus pandemic, make an appointment with a mental health professional to discuss treatment options. Especially if your teen uses substances to self-medicate: that’s not a sustainable coping mechanism.

At Evolve Treatment Centers, we believe drugs are never the answer to managing difficult emotions.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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