Parents are perhaps the most critical component of a teen’s mental health and behavior. When teens reach adolescence, they face more adult challenges, such as the temptation to use drugs and alcohol.
Teens’ brains haven’t developed yet, and they don’t have the necessary tools to cope with these added pressures. Part of your duty as a parent is to give your children these coping tools so they can navigate the complexities of adolescence.
Parents can help prevent their teens from substance abuse by keeping an open line of communication with them and being receptive to their feedback.
This guide discusses the proven strategies involved in recognizing teen substance abuse. It also gives parents some access to resources, getting them the help they need to live a healthy, happy life.
What Is Substance Use Disorder?
The term “substance abuse” applies to people who have destructive and unmanageable substance use problems. In the past, mental health professionals simply labeled teens addicts. Since then, the mental health community has gotten more specific with its classifications over the years.
Instead of labeling everything as an addiction, mental health professionals have separated teens “abusing” substances from teens who are “addicted” to substances. The term “abuse” means overindulging in substances from time to time, while addiction refers to chemical or psychological dependencies on substances.
Doctors have recently coined the term “substance use disorder” (SUD) to diagnose patients who don’t have a physical dependence on substances.
What Are the Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder?
When doctors diagnose substance abuse disorders, they refer to specific substances such as “marijuana abuse disorder” or “alcohol abuse disorder.” Substance abuse cases range from mild to severe, and it’s crucial to have a doctor diagnose your teen’s severity if you’re concerned.
Having a doctor diagnose your teen’s disorder will help you develop an approach to your teen’s condition. As defined by the American Psychiatric Association, your teen must exhibit three of the following eleven symptoms to qualify as a substance abuse disorder teen.
- Prolonged or excessive use of their preferred substances.
- Tried, but failed to reduce their usage.
- Spent significant time recovering from the substance aftereffects.
- Wanted to use so desperately, they sacrifice their responsibilities.
- Continued use despite the adverse effects it has on school, social, or family life.
- Increased their risk of injury by using and operating machinery such as an automobile.
- Continued using even though it made them feel depressed or anxious.
- Developed a tolerance to the point where they have to use more of the substance to achieve the desired effect.
- Felt withdrawal symptoms when the substance wears off.
If your teen has a moderate substance abuse issue, they will have at least 4-5 of the aforementioned symptoms. Teens with severe cases of substance abuse exhibit over six symptoms. If a teen has severe substance abuse issues, they may qualify as having dependency issues.
Teen Substance Problems
75% of teens have experimented with drugs or alcohol at least once. Nearly half of all high school students, 6 million, currently use alcohol or drugs.
Evidence suggests that teens are also more susceptible to SUDs than adults. The reason for this may be because substances affect teens differently than adults. Their brain chemistry and their bodies are still developing, and alcohol or other substances can alter that development.
How Do Alcohol and Drugs Affect Teens’ Bodies and Minds?
The human brain and body do not fully develop until a person’s mid-20s. The areas of the brain responsible for decision making and behavior take especially long to form. The rapid development of the brain during adolescence makes it understandable that mortality rates increase once people reach their teens.
Teens’ decision-making centers can’t critically think through potentially dangerous situations, such as other teens peer pressuring them to use potentially harmful substances. These substances cause developmental changes in different areas of the body and brain.
Drugs Stunt Brain Development
Research clearly shows that the teen brain is more susceptible to damage from substances due to its developing nature. Additionally, during adolescence, risk-taking behaviors make substance abuse more likely, putting the teen brain in imminent danger.
The teen brain’s development puts them at an increased for developing substance use disorders. In fact, studies suggest the younger someone starts using drugs, the more likely they are to develop substance use disorders.
Which Drugs Do Teens Use Most Frequently
The National Institute on Drug Use found the most commonly used drug by teenagers besides tobacco and alcohol was marijuana. Amphetamines were a distant second in the study, followed by these drugs:
- Synthetic marijuana
- Cough medicine
Some of these drugs, such as prescription painkillers, are more physically damaging than others. If you notice your teen exhibiting signs of abusing any of these drugs, you should consider your treatment options.
Treatment Options For Teen Substance Abuse
Each teen admitted to treatment facilities must undergo a diagnosis from a doctor. Based on this diagnosis, the doctor will devise a comprehensive treatment strategy and discuss it with your teen.
Some examples of treatment options:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Family Therapy
- Contingency Management
- Motivational Interviewing
- Recreational Therapy
- Medication Therapy
- Teen Residential Treatment Centers
The treatment your doctor recommends for your teen depends on your teen’s specific condition and risk factors. Doctors consider the severity of your teen’s substance abuse and consider what types of drugs your teen has abused and their medical history.
How Long Does Treatment Take?
The duration of your teen’s treatment program depends on their severity and their individual needs. Treatment plans typically use 30, 60, or 90-day increments. However, you shouldn’t expect one treatment round to cure your teen. Substance abuse is an ongoing battle that requires continuous treatment.
Conclusion- How To Address Teen Substance Abuse
After a teen completes a stint in a teen residential treatment center, there can be a tendency to think their condition is somehow over. However, despite their initial success, teens can return to their substance abuse behavior once they return to a tempting, uncontrolled environment.
The first defense against relapse is maintaining clear communication with your teen. If your teen loses trust in you, you lose the ability to help them with their struggles. The other approach you can take is signing your teen up for a community support group and attending with them. Show them they’re not alone in their struggles.
If you want to supplement your teen’s SUD treatment, you can schedule one-on-one counseling. This type of counseling gives them the attention they need to thrive.