Most parents realize the unfortunate truth that teens will be teens, and they will find ways to test boundaries and experiment. Healthy experimentation is how teens learn about the world and themselves, and it's one way they grow and mature. With so much going on in the teen mind, body and social circle, though, experimenting can quickly get out of hand or lead to unhealthy activity such as the illegal use of drugs or alcohol.
Not every teen that tries drugs or alcohol one time will become addicted. In fact, some teens who abuse these drugs in social settings several times manage to avoid the cycle of addiction, but it's important to remember that illegal use of substances comes with a number of consequences even if addiction isn't one of them. This is one reason it's so important to proactively discuss substance abuse with kids.
Parents who are worried about teens developing substance abuse or addiction disorders can also equip themselves with some basic knowledge about the subject.
Who can become addicted to drugs or alcohol?
The short answer is that anyone can become addicted to a substance. Some people are more susceptible to addiction by nature of their own genetics, outside stresses in their life or traumatic events early in life. Individuals who are susceptible could become addicted faster than others, especially when dealing with substances that don't create physical withdrawal symptoms.
Anyone can become addicted after taking substances that create strong withdrawal symptoms. Heroin, for example, is known to be one of the most addicting substances because of the way it works on the body. Even a teen with no reason to take drugs other than to experiment could find himself drawn back to heroin after a single use because the withdrawal symptoms are too much to deal with.
A genetic history of addiction or substance abuse or the presence of a mental health disorder are risk factors for addiction, but they don't mean a teen will 100 percent become addicted or even use drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, medical science can't pinpoint all the causes and factors leading to addiction, which means parents must be vigilant about the impact of drugs and alcohol in their teens' lives.
What does addiction look like in a teenager?
It's sometimes difficult to tell the difference between normal teen mood swings and symptoms of addiction. By being aware of your teen's activities and behavior and talking to them regularly, you can better understand if they might be struggling with something such as addiction or a substance abuse disorder.
Some signs to look for that can indicate a presence of drugs or alcohol in your teen's life include:
- Sudden changes in how your teen approaches social, school, work or family activities and involvement
- Isolation from friends and family
- Sudden poor performance in school or recreational activities
- A lack of interest in things that used to excite your teen
- A sudden change of friendships or social circles
- Secretive or deceitful behavior, especially if it's out of character for your teen
- Depression, anxiety or nervousness
- Changes in sleeping or eating that aren't explained by things such as more activity or growth spurts
- Engaging in risky behavior
One of these signs alone isn't necessarily a neon sign screaming "drugs and alcohol!" In fact, teens often change social circles as they enter new milestones or exhibit bouts of temporary depression as they struggle with their changing bodies and a growing understanding of the world. As a parent, look for trends in your teen's behavior or groupings of these symptoms.
What can you do about suspected addiction?
You should also always trust your instincts and take action if you think something might be wrong. It's better to take action by making a phone call or speaking to a professional about the problem and be incorrect in your assumption than it is to avoid taking action and have your teen experience legal, social or health consequences of prolonged drug use.
Here are three things you can do as a parent if you suspect your teen might be in trouble or be abusing alcohol or drugs.
- Initiate an open, calm and judgment-free conversation with your teen. It's possible he or she knows help is needed and just needs the right caring nudge to admit the problem and open up about it. On the other hand, your teen might try to cover up the issue, but this conversation could clue you in if he or she tries to lie about it.
- Talk to professionals in your teen's life to understand if the behavior is seen elsewhere or get feedback on options. You might discuss the issue confidentially with your teen's medical provider, counselor, guidance counselor at school or teachers.
- Finally, reach out to a facility to get information about teen drug and alcohol treatment options. You can call The Teen Treatment Center at (844)319-5239 anytime to speak to a caring professional admissions counselor.