Young adults are very vulnerable to addictions, and in many cases, are more vulnerable than any other age group. During the teen years, the brain and body are still in development. In particular, the area of the brain that makes rational decisions is not well-established. And in reality, these parts of the brain are often not fully developed until into the twenties. For this reason, teens are very susceptible to impulsive and risky behaviors and irrational decision making. Therefore, if teens have developed a substance abuse problem, it is important to get them into an addiction recovery program as soon as possible.

The prevalence of addiction in teens 

The brain and its process of development, however, is not the only determining or biological factor that puts teens at risk of addiction. Their bodies are also still in development, and as a result, react in different ways to drugs and alcohol than do adults. The natural bodily composition and systems are not as prepared as those of adults to process the dangerous and sometimes toxic chemicals that are found in substances such as alcohol, tobacco products, marijuana, and harder drugs.

Peer pressure is another significant contributor to teen addiction. Teenagers are easily influenced by their friends and acquaintances in just about anything from how to dress, what to eat, who to date, and how to spend their free time. Further, teens are influenced by outside influencers too, such as musicians, actors, politicians, and more. Therefore, when presented with an opportunity to try drugs or alcohol for the first time, many teens will give in. As fitting in with peers or aligning with their various idols is important to them, they may feel ostracized if they choose not to participate.

A teen’s living situation may also influence their susceptibility to substance abuse. Teens are particularly susceptible to stress and often develop anxiety, and in extreme cases, depression, when they are faced with ongoing challenges in their home environment. Children of divorce or those with single parents, and especially children of other addicts, are unfortunately at greater risk of developing a teen addiction. These stresses at home can lead a teen to turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. Once a teen develops these illnesses and dispositions, they are far more likely to self-medicate with alcohol, tobacco products, and drugs.

Identifying if your teen has an addiction

Every parent worries about their children and hopes that they will turn out healthy and will make smart decisions in their life. As parents, we care for our children from the moment they are born, and in many cases, we never completely let go of that role as a parent even after they move into adulthood. While raising children doesn’t come with a tried and true manual (though many authors have tried), the only real way to raise your child is through trial and error. 

For drug and alcohol abuse, there is no quick or easy solution for prevention. But the best way to help prevent your children from experimenting with drugs or other substances is through open and honest communication. Talking to your children about the risks of substance abuse can be a strong deterrent. 

Regardless of your teen’s unique living situation or predispositions, and no matter how much you might talk to your children about substance abuse, you need to be on the lookout for behaviors that could indicate that there is a problem. Here are some key behaviors to be on the lookout for.

  • Behavioral changes – While this might seem obvious, sometimes it is easy to get so pulled into your daily life and routine that you don’t notice when your teen has started behaving differently. And keeping closely tied to your teen and how they act in various situations is critical. If previously stable relationships with family members are starting to struggle or fall apart, it could be a sign of substance abuse. While some arguing with siblings is normal, if the arguments increase or take on a harsher tone of anger, this could be a sign that your teen is under the influence. Another behavior to look out for it staying out past curfew and conspicuously defying ground rules. Again, these behaviors might be normal for a teenager. But, if they are different than usual or come out of nowhere, and if paired with staying out all night, driving recklessly, asking for more money than usual and then disappearing for long periods of time, you will be right to be suspect.
  • Physical changes – Some physical changes may include constant sniffling, eye-redness or unusual puffiness, manic behavior, changes in appetite, faster, slower, or slurred speech, and a new lack of coordination. Different substances will result in different behaviors, so parents need to stay in tune with their teen, especially when they approach the years that are most prone to experimentation (typically around age 14).
  • Emotional changes – Teens are well known as being highly subject to mood swings. But when drug use is added to the mix, those highs and lows are much more obvious. A withdrawn or depressed teen may be dealing with mental health issues, but deceitfulness and sneakiness can be signs of additional trouble. Sudden excitability and restless behavior are key indicators that your teen is under the influence. Drug and alcohol use counteracts normal hormone development. These hormones greatly impact teen behavior as well as growth and typical development. Though it can be very difficult to gauge the rationale behind a teenager’s behaviors on occasion, parents still must observe those moods and potential personality shifts to determine if substance abuse is a factor.
  • Health and hygiene changes – Most teens are very particular about how they look and how they smell. And while these concerns are natural, and actually a good thing, it is equally confusing. Hormones and just typical growth in the average teenager can be very stressful. Sometimes, teens don’t know how to handle all of the changes that their bodies are going through. Though these typical changes aren’t necessarily what lead a teen to experience with illegal substances, when combined with other challenges that they might be facing, teens can find it difficult to handle everything happening to them at once. Parents should be on the lookout for track marks on arms from drug injections, frequent bumps, bruises, and other abrasions as these could all be signs of injuries that took place while your teen was intoxicated. Lengthy periods of lethargy, an increase in the number of headaches, and periods of sleeplessness are common in young adults who are misusing drugs and prescription medications. If your teen has demonstrated some drastic changes in how they take care of themselves, it may mean that they are distracted and fixated on other, less appropriate activities. A messy exterior physical façade and a general lack of care for their personal hygiene are often signs of degrading mental health in conjunction with drug abuse.
  • Academic performance change – If your teen has done well in school in the past, or even if they have typically maintained a C average, and all of a sudden, grades dip dramatically, this should be cause for alarm. If a high school teacher has reached out to you about your teen’s behavior in the classroom or reports that your teen appears intoxicated or altered in some other way, these warnings cannot be ignored. Parents should always keep their eyes open for drug-related paraphernalia in the teen’s room, or car. These items may include cellophane wrappers, foil, rolling papers, small pipes, or other small baggies and containers, even if empty. In many cases, if a teen doesn’t have a job or can’t get one, they may be prone to steal cash from parents, or they may start to take valuable items that can be sold for money that can then be used to purchase illegal substances. 

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Getting your teen into an addiction recovery program 

If you have noticed any of the above signs in your teen, especially more than one, you need to take action. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) indicates that a good place to start is by bringing your teen in for an appointment with your general practitioner or pediatrician. Your physician can conduct a screening for drug-related substances and can then work with you to refer your teen to a more specialized physician or program that is trained to help teens with substance abuse problems.

Getting help for your teen will not be easy. Parents need to understand that seeking assistance will interrupt academic, personal, as well as athletic milestones that your teen may have been looking forward to. On the flip side, if substance abuse has caused your teen to shy away from activities that they used to find fun or interesting, then addiction recovery services may help your teen to rediscover joy in places where they once had it. Treatment for teen addiction can be highly effective, and though there may be setbacks, and it will take time and patience, teens can recover from addiction. 

Teen addiction treatment enables these young adults to fight and overcome the powerful and addicting grips that these substances have created. Ultimately, most teens can regain control of their lives. So, parents need to ensure that their teen is healthy and prepared to venture back into the world post-treatment. This means that treatment is usually an ongoing process to ensure your teen stays clean and sober. 

The addiction recovery process for teens 

Teens can begin their journey to addiction recovery in several different ways. Initial treatment often entails a teen-focused step program (similar to the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous), a stay in a rehabilitation facility, or visitation with a trained substance abuse counselor or therapist as an outpatient. Seeking help for your teen is a wise decision, but parents need to be prepared that addiction recovery isn’t done and over after a 30-day or 60-day stay in a rehabilitation center. While those programs serve a serious purpose in the process, they only serve that particular purpose – short-term recovery. For long-term recovery, you will need to continue working and making lifestyle changes and seeking continued support.

After your teen achieves initial sobriety and graduates from their rehabilitation program, you should expect that the following activities will come next:

  • Ongoing communication after treatment
  • Outpatient counseling and therapy
  • Follow-up visits or phone calls with the rehabilitation center staff
  • Participation in community organizations and support groups
  • Ongoing and frequent drug testing
  • Family therapy for parents, sisters, and brothers
  • Ongoing discussions with a sponsor 
  • Coordinated communication and interaction with your teen’s school as well as local law enforcement 

Preventing relapse after your teen’s addiction recovery 

It is unfortunate but true that relapse is a very common obstacle during a teen’s path to recovery and maintained sobriety. But parents and teens both need to understand that one mistake doesn’t necessarily mean a relapse. Instead, when these mistakes happen, teens need to understand the importance of reaching out to their sponsor, therapist, or physician. These mistakes are common and should be expected but not underestimated. In fact, an estimated one-third of teens find themselves back in rehabilitation within 90 days of graduating from a typical 30-day program.

Parents who remain engaged with their teen, and teens that work to develop a strong and renewed relationship with their parents will find the best likelihood of success. Open and transparent communication between parent and teen is critical to get through these difficult times.

Family therapy works to help parents, teens, and the other children in the household to resolve communication challenges of the past, and to work towards trusting and loving relationships. Families who do not partake in these counseling activities will find a higher likelihood that their teen will relapse.

Parents who provide a loving and non-judgmental environment to their teen will find their relationship will strengthen and that their teen will know that coming to their parents with their challenges will be accepted.

The foundation of any addiction recovery program is communication and trust.

If your teen is struggling with addiction and you’re looking for a well-qualified facility to help them get the help they need to get their life on track, there are options. Reach out to Hillcrest in order to find out how our facility can help your family!