Drug Addiction in Teenagers

As children grow into young adults, they are faced with many pressures while they develop their own sense of self. By the time most teenagers are in high school, they will have been exposed to the life of underage drinking and illegal drug use. They are constantly seeing drug use and drinking romanticized in music, television shows, and movies. A common activity that teenagers look forward to is partying, where alcohol and drugs are prevalent.

Every parent wants the best for their child. Watching their child struggle with drug addiction is terrifying and stressful, to say the least. The first step to helping a teenager with drug addiction is educating yourself on the disease of addiction.

What Does It Look Like?

Drug abuse amongst teenagers is not an uncommon thing. Statistics show that nearly fifty percent of teenagers have used illegal drugs before they finish high school. The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS) states that between 2016 and 2020 drug use in eighth-graders increased by 61 percent.

Not every case of drug abuse leads to drug addiction, however, the use of drugs earlier in life is proven to increase the chances of addiction later in life. What drives teenagers to use drugs varies on a case-by-case basis. Many teenagers will feel pressure to drink or use drugs at parties to be accepted by their peers. Some teenagers will turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with stress, depression, or other mental health struggles. Others seek drugs and alcohol to provide them with an escape from themselves, or their lives.

All it can take is one drink or drug for an addiction to spark. They will continue to use their substance of choice to achieve the euphoric feeling drugs and alcohol provide. This increases tolerance to their substance of choice, and over time they will need more of it to achieve the same feeling as when they first started. This can lead them to try other, more dangerous drugs to get the feeling they are searching for.

Signs of drug abuse and addiction will always differ in each person. However, there are many common signs that can point to the use of drugs in teenagers. Some of these signs include but are not limited to:

  • Lying
  • Decreased performance in school
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Uncharacteristic behavior
  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Drowsiness
  • Bloodshot or puffy eyes
  • Isolation from family
  • Staying out late frequently and/or sneaking out
  • Depression

Commonly Abused Substances

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance among teenagers. In a study done by the NCDAS in 2020, they found that 61.1% of teenagers have abused alcohol by the time they graduate high school. Underage drinking is dangerous and can easily lead to a dependence on alcohol. The NCDAS states that nearly 3% of seniors in high school drink alcohol daily.

The most popular way to consume alcohol among teenagers is binge drinking. Binge drinking is when many drinks are consumed in a short period of time. Specifically defined as four to five drinks in under two hours. Many teenagers will consume a considerable amount more than this. The goal of binge drinking is to get drunk quickly and feel the effects of alcohol to their maximum. Binge drinking easily leads to blacking out. A blackout is when memory loss occurs due to intoxication. During a blackout people can make risky choices they would not typically make due to impaired judgment. This can include:

  • Driving drunk
  • Unsafe sexual behavior
  • Injuries
  • Reckless behavior
  • Violence

Marijuana is the second most commonly abused substance among teenagers. The NCDAS reports that 43.7 % of twelve-to-seventeen-year old’s have tried marijuana in their lifetime. They also found that around 80% of them are more likely to smoke marijuana than a cigarette.  With regular use, marijuana can cause permanent damage to the brain of a teenager. Regular use of marijuana can reduce coordination and cause difficulty in problem-solving and learning ability. Studies show marijuana use can increase the chance of developing schizophrenia and other mental health disorders.

Marijuana is considered a ‘gateway drug’ because it is often the first drug most adolescents are introduced to. After using marijuana long enough to develop a tolerance, many teenagers will seek out other drugs to get a more intense high. Other drugs that are abused by teenagers are:

  • Cocaine
  • Hallucinogens
  • MDMA
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Opioids
  • Inhalants

The Risks of Early Drug Abuse 

Using drugs at a young age can have many consequences.  Until the age of 25, the prefrontal cortex is still developing. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that handles decision-making, impulse control, and problem-solving. Using drugs while the prefrontal cortex is still developing can cause reduced impulse control, resulting in an increase in the urge to use drugs. There are other parts of the brain impacted by drug use including the sensitivity of the “reward circuit.” The reward circuit links together different structures in the brain that allow the feeling of pleasure. Using drugs will over-stimulate the reward circuit, making it extremely difficult for the user to feel pleasure apart from their drug of choice. Therefore, as an addiction forms, the person suffering from addiction stops partaking in the activities that they used to enjoy. They will begin to prioritize their drug of choice over everything, which can bring about consequences such as:

  • A decline in grades and attendance at school
  • Suspension or expulsion from school
  • Legal issues
  • Driving accidents
  • DUI/DWI
  • Ruined relationships with friends and family
  • Financial insecurity
  • Suicidal ideations

Recovery Options

Teenage drug abuse is an issue to be taken seriously. If you recognize signs of teenage drug addiction in a loved one, now is the time to seek help. The earlier they can receive treatment, the better chance they have at recovery. There are many addiction treatment centers specifically for teenagers that can help guide them into sobriety. Addiction treatment programs provide multiple types of therapy, teach coping mechanisms, and create an individualized plan for each client to set them up for success in their sobriety.

The team at Moving Mountains Recovery is more than happy to answer any questions about teenage drug addiction that you may have. We can help connect you with reputable addiction treatment centers to ensure that your teenager is in the best of care as they begin their journey into recovery. Please reach out to us today!

Sources:

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/binge-drinking
https://drugabusestatistics.org/teen-drug-use/
https://www.cdc.gov/marijuana/factsheets/pdf/MarijuanaFactSheets-Teens-508compliant.pdf
https://www.thescienceofpsychotherapy.com/prefrontal-cortex/
https://teens.drugabuse.gov/teachers/mind-matters/drugs-and-brain

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