Teen Addiction: What you Need to Know

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Addiction has devastating effects on all who become addicted, but adolescents are especially vulnerable to the effects of addiction. The behaviors and thought processes associated with adolescence are unique, and therefore a need exists for a specialized treatment to address the problems of teenage addiction. The disease of addiction in teens is progressive and ultimately fatal when left untreated, and the earlier it can be arrested, the better. This article will help you identify the signs of teenage addiction early and know what treatment options are best for you.

Signs of substance use

Between peer pressure, awkward phases, bullying, academic pressures and athletic pressures, teens in modern society have many reasons to seek the escape of mood altering substances.  In recent years, the growing popularity of prescription painkillers and sedatives has exacerbated the problem of teenage addiction.

It is important to understand the difference between a teen addict and a teen that is simply being a teen. Some key signs of teen addiction are:

  1. Sudden and extreme shifts in academic or athletic performance
  2. Discovery of paraphernalia, i.e. lighters, pipes
  3. Altered state of consciousness, nonsensical talk or unresponsive to questioning
  4. Recurrently breaking curfew
  5. Frequent sickness

Changes in appearance and behavior are also common signs of addiction, yet can also be attributed to simply being a teenager, and are not necessarily indicators of a need for adolescent treatment. Some of these behaviors include:

  • Mood swings
  • Secrecy
  • Communication problems
  • Weight change
  • Disciplinary problems

What to do if you suspect substance use

The importance of being able to separate normal teenage behavior from addiction cannot be overstressed. Teens express themselves in many different ways including unique dress, language, choice of music or friends – and by defying mom and dad. However, individuality does not mean your teen is on drugs.

I recommend that parents talk to their teens. Find out if there are any major changes in their life.  Attempt to rule out other possible explanations for behavior changes. In some cases, when a teen is guarded or reluctant to talk to a parent or guardian, the support of a therapist who specializes in working with adolescents and families can help. If you, or your child’s therapist suspects drug use, go directly to a family doctor for a blood test or urine analysis. Parents are not encouraged to use, or depend upon, home drug tests to determine whether or not their child is using drugs. Drug testing is best left to the professionals, so nothing can be misconstrued.

Getting help for your teen

Some of the most powerful motivators for addicts in general are negative consequences, or when teen’s life has become unmanageable enough to want to make a change.  Some examples of negative consequences teen addicts may face include:

  • Dropping out of school
  • Spending a night(s) in a juvenile or adult jail
  • Being sent to a special school for troubled teens
  • Overdosing and other medical health complications
  • Losing contact with friends and loved ones
  • Losing driving privileges

Since teenagers are still growing and their life experiences are different from working adults, their treatment and recovery may entail some special circumstances not present in adult drug treatment and recovery.  Teens may not believe their use means they “have a problem” or need treatment for substance use. However, finding treatment immediately is of the utmost importance.  The key with getting unwilling young people into adolescent treatment, as with any addict, is to bring their bottom to them and make the potential consequences of their refusal to get help severe enough for them to get treatment.

Finding treatment for your teen

Teenagers are typically more inpatient, intolerant, and immature in life because of their lack of experience. It takes a distinctive approach to reach an audience that is not only addicted, but also has a reduced capacity for selflessness and abstinence. What sets the adolescent treatment programs and adult treatment programs apart is the increased level of sensitivity the counselors and therapists must have towards adolescents.

It takes a special kind of behavioral health care professional to do effective work in an adolescent treatment center because adolescents have special circumstances that separate their healing process from most adults.  Teen treatment has a more focused goal than adult treatment. In adolescent treatment, the main focus is not just on getting the addict sober and teaching essential survival skills to remain sober in the real world, but also working to get teens ready to go back to their school environment with the same people and pressures, yet do everything entirely differently. Enlisting the support of a Psychologist when considering treatment options cannot be overstressed.  Your teen’s therapist can help recommend a treatment program that is best for him and her, and provide the follow-up that is necessary as part of the teen’s after-care program when they graduate from such a program.

Above all, parents and guardians are encouraged to stay calm and think clearly. Although learning of substance abuse problem can be a devastating and scary family experience, help is out there. Know that you are not alone and there are trained professionals who can provide the guidance you, and your teen need to get through the dark times and find a renewed sense of hope.

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