A teen can begin using drugs or alcohol for a number of reasons. Teens may start to use substances out of simple curiosity and the desire to try something forbidden. They may try drugs or alcohol because it is what their friends are doing. They might begin drinking or using drugs in order to mask other problems in their life such as depression or anxiety. But parents who know what to look for will be able to spot addiction if/when it does occur and step in to get their teen needed help.
Not everyone who uses alcohol or drugs becomes addicted, but many do. There are factors which make some people more likely to form an addiction than others.
Risk Factors For Addiction
- Genetic factors – if a teen has family members with addiction they are at increased risk
- Environmental factors – if the teen experienced early trauma, neglect or abuse
- Having a mental illness like depression or anxiety raises the chances of addiction
- Using alcohol or drugs at an early age
How Drugs Affect A Teen’s Brain
It doesn’t matter what substance is used, every drug, including alcohol, changes the brain in some way. Getting high, for example, is the sensation which occurs when the brain releases the pleasure chemical dopamine. The brain learns and becomes conditioned to the drug or alcohol use and its associated pleasure and this is what drives cravings.
The brain also is altered insofar as it begins to function as though the drug’s presence is normal and necessary. Over time, as the addiction forms, the person begins to feel that their need for the substance is as powerful as their need for food and water.
Drugs or alcohol can make the user feel very happy or at least keeps them from feeling very unhappy. Soon there are more reasons to use – to calm down or to perk up, to face problems or to be social. Eventually, people will wind up feeling that they need it in order to cope with whatever the day throws at them.
Parents who are concerned over whether their teen may be suffering from an addiction can be alert to these characteristic signs of abuse.
Signs Of Addiction In Teens
- Not meeting responsibilities – not turning in school work, not going to class, fired from a job, breaking family rules
- Having relational problems – with parents, with friends, with teachers at school
- Pupils are dilated or constricted
- Poor personal hygiene – teens are normally hyper-attentive to their appearance
- Needs money
- Insomnia or increased sleep
- Eat less or more with their weight up or down
- Shaking hands, poor motor control, slurred speech
- Signs of anxiety or depression
Risky Behaviors That Teen Users Are More Likely To Engage In
It can sometimes be tricky to discern between normal teenage moodiness and some of the symptoms of substance use. Parents who observe several of these signs over a period of time may need to step in. Substance use should not be an accepted rite of passage. It is a dangerous behavior that often leads to other dangerous behaviors. Teens that drink or use drugs are more likely to drive under the influence, get into fights, engage in high-risk sex and many other life-threatening behaviors.
What Parents Can Do If Their Child Has A Drug Addiction
If the teen needs to use more of the substance in order to feel the same as when he/she took less than they have built up a tolerance which is a sign of addiction. If the teen has tried to stop on their own but fails to quit, they could be addicted. Often the unpleasant symptoms of substance withdrawal keep the teen going back. Finally, if the teen is spending most of their time thinking about, procuring, using and recovering from use, then they have an addiction problem.
Parents who learn that their teen has a substance addiction need to avoid wasting time blaming themselves and focus instead on moving forward with their child. It is important to seek substance abuse treatment if your teen is addicted.