Teenage Drug Addiction

Drug abuse and addiction are damaging to mental health, physical health, and social well-being. Teenage drug addiction is particularly serious because having an untreated substance use disorder (SUD) damages health and makes it difficult for young people to focus on their education. An additional danger of teen drug abuse is that it impairs their judgment and makes it more likely that they will take part in risky behaviors.

Teenage drug abuse and addiction could involve a number of substances, including prescription drugs, alcohol, household products, and other drugs sold illicitly on the street. Whatever the nature of the young person's use, there are common warning signs that you can look out for. There is also treatment available to help teenagers say goodbye to drug abuse.

What Is Addiction?

Drug and alcohol use can lead to dependence and addiction. These terms are often used interchangeably but are different phenomena. Both develop gradually with substance use and make quitting very difficult. Drug dependence occurs when the body has adjusted to a point where it feels it needs the drug to function normally. When the person stops taking it they experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a chronic disorder that causes the person to lose control over their substance use. They compulsively seek out and take the substance to which they are addicted despite negative consequences such as social, mental, and physical health issues.

What Is Teen Drug Abuse?

Efforts to prevent teen drug abuse have to focus on several areas because the term drug abuse has a variety of meanings, particularly in this age group.

  • Underage drinking is illegal and is a form of abuse, especially because of the health risks that alcohol poses to growing bodies and the developing teenage brain.
  • Similarly, if marijuana is legal in your state but you are not of a legal age to partake, ingesting or smoking marijuana is drug abuse.
  • Taking prescription drugs that are not intended for you, or in a manner that was not prescribed by the doctor, is a form of drug abuse.
  • Inhaling household products to get high also counts as drug abuse.
  • Using illicit drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, is also abuse.

Risk Factors for Addiction in Teens

A wide range of factors can make teenagers vulnerable to developing a drug addiction.

Factors at home

  • Family history of substance abuse that normalizes the taking of drugs
  • Trauma such as childhood neglect or experience of violence

Factors outside the home

  • Peer pressure
  • Wanting to feel accepted and connected with friends

factors related to emotions

  • Curiosity and desire to explore; the perception that drug-taking is grown up
  • Low self-esteem
  • Using drugs as an escape or to achieve feelings of control

One of the biggest risk factors for teenage drug addiction is mental health disorders. Teenagers may use substances to self-medicate or to ease stress and social anxiety. Research shared by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that over 60 percent of adolescents in treatment also had a co-occurring mental health disorder.

Teen Substance Use and Addiction

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that where drug use in teens is concerned, alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco are the most used substances. By 12th grade, two-thirds of students have tried alcohol, and two in ten 12th graders have used a prescription drug without a prescription. Half of students from 9th to 12th grade reported using marijuana at some point in their life, and four in ten reported having tried cigarettes.

Warning Signs of Abuse and Addiction

Recognizing signs of drug use in teens is important because you may be able to detect a substance misuse problem before it develops into an addiction.

Signs of Drug Abuse

Each drug produces its own side effects, but some signs of substance abuse are common to a number of drugs. If your teen has a substance use issue, they might not present all of these signs. It's important to remember that these symptoms could also indicate other health problems.

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Emotional blunting
  • Changes in appetite
  • Aggressiveness
  • Paranoia
  • Laughing for no reason
  • Drug paraphernalia e.g. foil, pipes

Signs of Drug Addiction

There are also behavioral signs to look out for that indicate that addiction may have developed. You may notice that the young person's academic performance has deteriorated or that they are below their usual ability in athletic and sporting activities.

Relationship changes

  • Hanging out with a different group of friends
  • Withdrawing from family
  • Secretiveness

behavior around the substance

  • Using drugs or alcohol to forget problems or relax
  • Trying to quit the substance but not managing to
  • Complaining of withdrawal symptoms when not taking the substance

mood and well-being

  • Reduced self-care, possibly presented as changes in appearance and eating habits
  • Reckless behavior, poor judgment
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of interest in things they used to find enjoyable

Risks of Teen Drug Abuse and Addiction

Teen drug use is dangerous because it affects their physical and mental health, makes it more likely that they will engage in risky behavior, and causes problems in other areas of life. Some of the biggest risks of teen drug use include the following.

  • Danger of overdose
  • Increased risk of behaviors such as unprotected sex and driving under the influence.
  • Aggravation of existing mental health disorders and the development of new ones. For example, taking meth in high doses can induce symptoms of psychosis.
  • Dangers to health. Among other side effects, drug use can cause high blood pressure, organ disease, and sleep disorders.

The earlier that teens start drinking, the more likely they are to develop substance use problems later in life. Drug use in the teenage years can also affect growth and development, including brain development.

Teen Overdoses

If you are concerned about teenage drug use in your family, you will want to educate yourself about the signs of overdose. If you see someone experiencing these symptoms, you should seek medical assistance immediately by calling 911. If the person is unconscious, you can put them in the recovery position to prevent them from choking if they vomit.

Signs of a stimulant drug overdose

  • Bluish fingertips and lips
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest and stomach pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

Signs of a depressant drug overdose

  • Confusion
  • Bluish fingertips and lips
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Low blood pressure and weak pulse
  • Loss of consciousness

Drug impurity puts teenagers and people of all ages at significant risk of overdose. When teenagers buy drugs from dealers, they do not know what the substance has been mixed with. Fentanyl is a particular danger because it is often mixed with other drugs such as MDMA, meth, and cocaine. It is a strong opioid that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Just 2 mg of fentanyl can be a lethal dose.

Harm Reduction

If you are the parent of a young person and are worried about teen drug use, there are actions that you can take. It is important that your teenager trusts that you have their best interests at heart and that they can speak with you honestly about their drug use. It may be tempting to use scare tactics to make sure they don't abuse drugs. However, this could backfire, causing your child to not want to admit to you if they have a drug use problem.

Teens will likely see that peers do not always experience negative consequences when taking drugs. Therefore, it is important to present young people with real facts about drugs.

Active listening is vital for developing trust. This includes listening to what your teenager says without judgment or butting in. Let them speak freely, normalizing the expression of emotions. Teenagers will often use substances to help them deal with complicated emotions, so it may help if they know they can talk with you about these things. Part of this can include speaking with them about how they feel about drugs.

Some additional topics you may wish to discuss include the following.

  • The risks of getting in a car with a driver who has taken drugs.
  • Safer drug use. This might feel like enabling drug use, but if your teenager is going to take drugs, it is important they know the risks and how to alleviate them as best they can.
  • Ways to resist peer pressure
  • Your own drug use experience. This could be your reasons for never taking drugs or the negative consequences that occurred because you took them.

Setting a good example can also help. It is best not to abuse substances in front of your teenager. Do not normalize drug abuse for them by using if your child is nearby. If you drink alcohol, model drinking in moderation. Also, be aware of what prescription drugs are in the house and whether they are using them if they are not theirs.

It could be helpful to get support from a mental health professional. Mental health problems are a risk factor for addiction. By seeking help from a mental health professional such as a therapist, your teen can learn healthy ways to deal with their mental health problems.

If you love someone who has an addiction to substances, you can help them by staying sober, at least in front of them. Recovery can be a lifelong process, so this might mean remaining sober even years after your loved one quits. You can also help by being understanding and supportive of their addiction and recovery.

Teen Treatment at Clearfork

At Clearfork Academy, we focus on supporting teenagers with substance abuse problems as well as those with mental health problems. We are a residential center, providing a family-style environment that includes peer learning and allows families to join at the weekend.

We offer various treatment options, including intensive outpatient treatment for young people in the early stages of a substance abuse problem. Other services at Clearfork Academy include:

  • Medical detox
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy

Please visit our website or call us at (866) 650-5212 to find out more. We would love to welcome you to our center.

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