To some extent, drug use is expected from teenagers. Due to the frequency of use and the pervasive nature of drugs among high school and college students, popular culture is often quick to look the other way, assuming that "kids will be kids" and everything will resolve itself after young adulthood draws to a close.
While this abusive behavior is seen as a natural part of coming of age, the reality couldn't be farther from the truth. Youthful indiscretions aren't simply wiped from the slate when the teenage years come to an end and mistakes made now can affect your teen's life for decades to come. It may not be easy to admit, but teens are just as likely to become addicted to illicit substances as adult users.
What Is an Addict?
The phrase "addict" has numerous negative connotations in modern society, bringing to mind an image of someone who has hit rock bottom and can no longer function. Due to this public perception, many parents hesitate to label their teens as addicts, even when all the signs are there.
By definition, an addict is anyone who has developed a habit involving drug or alcohol abuse that cannot be ceased without assistance. In general, addiction has two key characteristics: use over and above both norms and your own personal preferences, and a continued use despite negative ramifications. In order to qualify under Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), addiction must meet at least three of the following criteria:
- An increased tolerance over time
- Emotional or physical withdrawal after a pause in use
- Limited control, leading to consumption that can't be stopped
- Negative consequences to health, self-esteem, family, or job
- Neglected or postponed activities
- A desire to quit
Can Teens Be Addicts?
Put simply, yes.
Substance use is rarely a casual thing, especially for extremely addictive drugs like heroin, cocaine, or prescription opiates. Teens who use addictive substances regularly are at great risk for both psychological and physical addiction, creating a lasting habit that cannot be stopped without extreme effort and professional intervention. An addiction to drugs is often more than behavioral; in fact, prolonged drug use makes changes to the brain itself.
Drugs work on the brain in two unique ways, depending on the substance in question:
- Imitating the brain's natural chemistry to alter signals and communications
- The overstimulation of the "reward center" of the brain, changing the ways in which the body reacts to neurotransmitters like dopamine
Due to the ways in which our brains function – using reward mechanisms to enforce positive behavior – drugs can easily override natural bodily instincts. While teenagers' brains are still developing, they are just as susceptible to drugs as adults are and, due to this development process, the effects can be even worse.
Signs of Addiction in Teens
Teen addictions manifest in numerous ways, ranging from behavioral to physical. As a parent, it's important to understand the signs and symptoms that can be indicative of a developing addiction.
An Obsessive Need to Use
All addicts need to use frequently and regularly, and this can involve going to great lengths to procure drugs. This need can cause agitation, anxiety, and closed off behavior, virtually cutting parents out of conversations, social events, and more. While all teens are embarrassed by their parents from time to time, drug seeking behavior is generally relentless and persistent.
Lying and Sneaking Around
For teens still living at home, finding time to buy and use drugs can prove to be problematic. As such, many adolescents resort to lying to their parents, pretending to be studying or at school events. They may sneak out at night, or spend lots of time isolated in their rooms.
Destruction of Relationships
Drugs have plenty of negative ramifications, and that includes an inability to maintain relationships with non-drug users. This can mean breakups with partners, trouble with family members, and fights with friend groups. Teen drug users often feel like no one understands them, and accelerating abuse only exacerbates this.
Addiction and academic performance are negatively correlated, and students who use drugs generally see more Ds and Fs than straight As. When a formerly strong student's performance starts to slip and you start hearing more from teachers, drug use could be the culprit.
Teens rotate friend groups regularly, but when your child starts hanging out with a secretive group of new pals and seems to undergo a shift in personality overnight, drugs may be a contributing factor. Cause and effect can be mixed – sometimes, new friends foster a drug habit, while other times, a drug habit necessitates new friends – but a rapid departure from close childhood friends is a warning sign.
Different drugs have different side effects, but many physical changes in your child can be indicative of an addiction, including:
- Slurring words
- Rapid or illogical speech
- Uncoordinated movements
- Bloodshot eyes
- Lack of logic or reasoning
- Loss of consciousness
The Danger in Teen Drug Use
Due to the frequency with which teens experiment with drugs, many teachers, parents, and peers are willing to write off abuse as a normal part of growing up. Tragically, this can be a grave mistake. Even casual drug use has the ability to develop into an addiction, and a younger starting age almost always results in a higher chance of lifelong struggles with drugs or alcohol.
Nearly nine in ten adult addicts begin using before age 18, and likelihood is greatest for those who begin using in their early teens. In fact, those who begin using prior to age 15 are seven times more likely to develop a substance abuse problem than those who delay initial use to after age 21. With this in mind, turning the other cheek to your teen's reckless behavior can lead to a strong possibility of addiction that may stand in the way of everything from college to long-term relationships.
If you are seeing signs of drug addiction in your teen, getting help is extremely important. Contact Teen Treatment Center today at (844) 319-5239 to learn more about what we are able to offer. We are standing by 24/7 365 days a year, including holidays.