It can be difficult to tell whether your drinking or your loved one’s drinking has shifted from casual to an alcohol use disorder or alcoholism. Answering some questions may help to determine an answer. Additionally, it is essential to understand the symptoms, health risks, and treatment options available.
Types of Drugs Commonly Used by Teens
The drug teens use most differs from one year to the next. However, commonly used substances by teens include:
Alcohol continues to be the substance used most commonly by teenagers. A National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed that 414,000 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 have struggled with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). This amounts to 251,000 females and 163,000 males in this number for this age group.2
Older teens may frequently partake in binge drinking. Engaging in binge drinking in adolescence can become a risk factor for alcohol addiction. Binge drinking goes further than social drinking with friends at parties. Binge drinking involves drinking large amounts of alcohol over a defined period of time.
This survey refers to illicit drugs: cocaine, marijuana, heroin, LSD, and other hallucinogens.
Illicit drugs can either inhibit or stimulate a person’s central nervous system. Certain types of illicit drugs will even cause hallucinogenic effects.
There are various types of prescription drugs, including:
How does drug abuse affect teens?
Exposure to substances that alter chemical functions can lead to long-term effects when a teen’s developing body is exposed to substances that alter chemical functions.
A decline in a teenager’s academic performance is one of the consequences of drug abuse. When a teen’s school performance is negatively affected by substance use there can be a larger impact. It can affect future opportunities like acceptance into higher education or career opportunities in adulthood.
There’s a link between substance use and poor judgment in things like:
When people begin using substances at an early age, it can make social situations more of a challenge down the road. Developing social connections without having to use substances first becomes more difficult.
Substance abuse can also lead to citations like criminal charges or impaired driving charges. These legal charges can have a long-lasting impact on a person’s life.
Teen drug abuse can also increase their risk of developing depression, anxiety, or another type of mental health disorder.
Also, the earlier teenagers begin using drugs, the greater their risk of continuing to abuse drugs later in life. Essentially if a teenager
Vulnerability to drug use: teenagers vs. adults
Reasons why teens use drugs
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teens experiment with alcohol and drugs because of five primary reasons:
Risk factors for teen drug abuse
Certain environmental and biological factors can increase a teen’s risk of drug abuse. These include:
Impulse control issues
Teenagers who have difficulties controlling their impulses have a higher risk of engaging in risky behaviors. These risky behaviors include the abuse of alcohol or drugs.
Family history of alcohol or drug abuse
Genetics play a big role in increasing a teen’s risk of developing a substance abuse addiction.
Teens have a greater risk for drug abuse later on in life if they’ve experienced some type of trauma, such as:
Certain types of therapy can help decrease the impact of trauma.
Peer pressure & popular culture
Teens often have to deal with pop culture and peer pressure, which frequently glamorizes the abuse of drugs. Teenagers who are unhappy or stressed might turn to alcohol or drugs to help make themselves feel better. Some teenagers may use drugs out of rebellion or boredom. While other teens may use drugs to feel “cooler” or have more confidence.
Mental health issues
Certain mental conditions can increase a teen’s risk of substance abuse, self-medicating, and addiction. These conditions may include ADHD, depression, eating disorders, and anxiety. Treating these types of illnesses can help decrease the risk of substance abuse issues.
What are the signs & symptoms to look out for
Parents can look out for many symptoms and signs to see if their teens are abusing drugs. But, it can be a bit challenging to decipher between actual drug use and the pangs of adolescence. Parents can find out what’s going on in their teen’s life simply by being proactive in talking with them.
Some common teen drug use signs include:
It’s the parent’s job to get the conversation going with their teen if they suspect they’re abusing drugs. Parents who think their teenager may be abusing drugs often don’t intervene, which can help prevent further drug abuse.
Having a conversation with teens about drug abuse
Parents will probably need to have multiple conversations with their teens about alcohol and drug use. They’ll need to choose times when they know they won’t be distracted or interrupted. There is a time when it’s not appropriate to have this conversation, such as:
To have a conversation about drugs with their teens, the parents should:
If parents know or suspect their teen is misusing or experimenting with drugs, they should:
If their teenagers come clean about their drug use, parents should not overreact. Lashing out or overreacting can keep teenagers from opening up to their parents about their experiences. Parents can better understand their drug use when they get their teenagers to talk. It can help determine if their drug use is experimental or if it’s becoming an issue.
Parents should let their teens know how much they care about them and their future. Teenagers who feel loved and supported are more likely to talk about their drug use. They may also be more likely to stop experimenting with drugs. And they may feel more comfortable asking for help if their drug use has turned into a problem.
How to get treatment if they're addicted?
Many teenagers struggle to cope with unpleasant feelings, like sadness, during adolescence. Many turn to alcohol, marijuana, or other substances to experience some relief. But, the best way for teens to cope with stress or unpleasant feelings is to seek emotional support. If teenagers have already tried to reduce their use but failed, they must obtain treatment immediately.
Teen drug abuse treatment programs should be evidence-based and person-centered. Drug rehabilitation center professionals can design a personalized or individualized treatment plan. This treatment plan will best meet a teen’s needs, including outpatient and inpatient care.
A lot of effective treatments are available to teenagers who have been diagnosed with substance use disorders. Many treatment plans include motivational enhancement therapy, behavioral family therapy, and cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT). There are also medication therapies to help with teen drug use.
Effective treatment plans may include:
Most treatment plans for drug addiction or recovery from alcohol include detox. The beginning stages of drug or alcohol addiction treatment start with the detox process or detoxification. The detox process eliminates the chemical substances or toxins from the individual’s body.
For teens who are physically dependent on a drug or alcohol detox will be necessary. A comfortable and safe detox is an important part of their recovery process.
During comprehensive addiction treatment, medical professionals supervise the detox process to ensure the individual’s body safely eliminates toxins from the substances. During successful detoxification, brain chemistry is stabilized. This allows medical professionals to accurately assess the patient’s psychological and physical condition. In doing so they can decide on what their next steps should be for their individual recovery process.
A good detox program will:
The healing journey is different for each teen dealing with dependence, particularly if they’re also coping with an underlying condition. Residential treatment or inpatient drug rehabilitation provides around-the-clock intensive care for teenagers.
This treatment is typically for teens with severe substance abuse and mental health conditions. Inpatient rehab provides an extremely structured environment that benefits teens struggling with alcohol and drug misuse. Removing teenagers from their social influences and environment can potentially disrupt their behavioral and substance use patterns.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT addresses drug abuse in teens. This method works by helping them identify, avoid, and deal with high-risk circumstances. These high-risk situations include situations where they’re more likely to relapse or use. This type of treatment is available for inpatient and outpatient drug rehab.
Behavioral family therapy
This therapy allows teenagers to learn how their drug abuse impacts others. It teaches them about unhealthy and healthy relationships. Additionally, behavioral family therapy helps teenagers build a support system in their households. A strong support system can help to discourage them from alcohol or drug abuse.
Motivational enhancement therapy (MET)
MET is a type of treatment that provides teens with the skills they need to avoid substance abuse in the future. Trained clinicians use motivational interviewing to address teens’ readiness to receive treatment for their drug abuse and change. Clinicians will recommend certain coping skills for trigger or high-risk situations.
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
This is a modified form of CBT with the primary goal of teaching individuals how to:
Outpatient drug rehabilitation treatment programs often include group and individual therapy, or the two combined. Some teens may require an inpatient drug rehab and/or a complete drug addiction detox. If this is the case, they will need to complete such treatment before they can enter into outpatient services. This is especially true in cases of severe drug dependence.
Dual diagnosis treatments
In many situations, an individual struggling with addiction also has an underlying mental health condition. The second condition will also require treatment along with their addiction. This ensures the patient’s best chances of a long-lasting recovery. This is called a dual diagnosis.
The patient and the therapist will work together to determine if any underlying conditions co-occur with their addiction. Common dual diagnoses and underlying issues include:
Identifying and treating any underlying cause of the teen’s addiction is important. Typically, the teen’s therapy during their stay at drug rehab will focus on the dual diagnosis. Thus, they receive the best possible treatment for successful recovery.
If the teen has a dual diagnosis, they must be treated for their underlying mental health condition and their addiction. This treatment will heal not just their addiction but the teen as a whole person. If an underlying problem is left untreated, it can lead to the teen relapsing in the future.
Each teen responds differently to treatment and therapy. The right treatment plan for one teen is typically not the same for all teens. Of course, what’s mentioned above are not the only treatments or therapies available.
The best treatment plan will specifically address the needs of each teen. Professionals will work with each teen as an individual. Focusing on the best treatment plan for their personal situation, needs, and recovery is essential.
- National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS). Drug Use Among Youth: Facts & Statistics. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://drugabusestatistics.org/teen-drug-use/
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Facts and Statistics. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Monitoring the Future 2021 Survey Results. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/monitoring-future-2021-survey-results
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Talking With Your Teen About Opioids: Keeping Your Kids Safe. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from: https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/TTHY-Opioid-Broch-2020.pdf
- (Last Updated April 14, 2022). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Rise in Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse Impacting Teens. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.samhsa.gov/homelessness-programs-resources/hpr-resources/rise-prescription-drug-misuse-abuse-impacting-teens
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen Substance Use & Risks. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/substance-use/index.htm
- Mariam Arain, Maliha Haque, Lina Johal, Puja Mathur, Wynand Nel, Afsha Rais, Ranbir Sandhu, and Sushil Sharma. Maturation of the adolescent brain. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2013; 9: 449–461. doi: 10.2147/NDT.S39776 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621648/
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