Substance Abuse in Adolescence

by Polaris Teen Center | Dec 18, 2015 | Resources, Substance Abuse

substance abuse in teens

One of the most difficult things you can be forced to deal with as a parent is a teenager who begins to regularly engage in substance abuse behaviors. Though you may offer them an environment of love and support, doing this alone is often not enough. You may need to find resources beyond those that you can provide yourself.

According to many estimates, a lower percentage of teenagers have admitted to abusing substances than in previous generations. But the primary reason for parents to be concerned is the fact that there are now a wider range of substances with the potential for abuse on the open market and many of these substances have become increasingly more potent over time. Because recent surveys suggest that the majority of American teenagers believe they could have access to most illicit substances “if they really wanted to”, it has become clear that teenage substance abuse is something that needs to be immediately addressed.

Fortunately, due to incredible advancements in the world of teen psychology, there are currently more treatment options available than ever before. Residential Adolescent Treatment Centers like Polaris, and other similar organizations have worked to diligently to improve treatment modalities and create results that actually last. Though the problems you and your teenager may be facing in the status quo are overwhelming, there are still an ample number of reasons to believe that things, in fact, can get better. By connecting your teenager with the resources they need to recover, they can immediately begin moving in a positive direction.

Why are teenagers especially likely to use drugs?

There are many reasons why teenagers are particularly prone to using drugs. Peer pressure, ease of acquisition, rebellion, and curiosity are all factors contributing to this unique at-risk behavior. Teenagers are experiencing a particularly emotional and rapidly changing time in their lives, and because of this, teenagers are more likely to make behavioral decisions based off of their emotions or exposures to new situations. The reasons teenagers use drugs are not always because they are unaware of their harmful consequences. Many teenagers are well aware of the dangerous behaviors they are engaged in, but still choose to do so anyways, and this phenomena puts parents who are concerned about their teen’s health and well-being in a uniquely difficult situation.

Understanding the Teen Substance Abuse Epidemic

Though you may recall the existence of accessible substances when you were a teenager, the landscape has considerably changed over the past few decades. Though, perhaps surprisingly, illicit drug use among teenagers is lower than it has been in the past two decades, the intensity of drugs that are being abused has increased. Specifically, though fewer teenagers will abuse illicit substances before they are 18 years old, more of them will experiment with prescription drugs that have a high potential for abuse.

In addition to the drugs that have had a historical potential for abuse—alcohol, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, etc.—the abuse of prescription drugs has presented a new set of issues for American teenagers. Stimulants such as Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin, and others are frequently purchased and abused by teens. Additionally, Xanax, various opiates, painkillers, and other brand name depressants also present a high potential for abuse.

As a parent, if your teenager has a prescription for a drug with a potential for abuse, you should be mindful of any negative changes in their behavior. Though these drugs may have their place regarding certain psychiatric uses, their potential for abuse is not something that should be willingly ignored. 

Common Signs of Substance Abuse

Most substance abuse issues do not develop overnight. Though these habits can indeed build quite quickly, most of the negative side effects associated with systematic substance abuse may take a considerable amount of time to present themselves to outsiders.

The relevant symptoms of substance abuse disorder will largely depend on the type of substance that your teenager is currently abusing.

  • Stimulant Addiction may be characterized by sleeping problems, rapid weight loss, red eyes, excessive talking, irritability, impulsiveness, and other dramatic changes in behavior.
  • Depressant Addiction may be characterized by constantly sleeping, an ongoing lack of motivation, difficulty remembering things or being engaged, irrational behavior, and various physical changes.
  • Alcohol Addiction may be characterized by difficulty sleeping, constant sickness (especially vomiting), shakiness, restlessness, depression, and other symptoms.

Usually, these disorders will manifest themselves in a way that affects your teenager’s everyday life. Many teens who suffer from substance abuse will begin to experience difficulties in school, work, their home life, and elsewhere. Additionally, because individuals who abuse one illicit substance are more likely to abuse another, it is important to remember that multiple combinations of these signs may be present at once.

How do I talk to my teen about their substance abuse problems?

Talking to your teenager about their substance abuse disorder can often be quite difficult. Though you may want them to change their behaviors, expressing your desire for them to do so is frequently met with denial, aggression, and various forms of projection. Even if your teenager begins to yell at you once you have confronted them about a substance abuse issue, it is important to remain calm and try to maintain a reasonable tone.

In order to effectively talk to your teen about substance abuse, you need to create an environment in which they feel as if they can honestly express themselves. Addressing your teen with hostility, judgment, or threats will very rarely produce the sorts of results you are looking for. Instead, trying to assure them that you love them, you care for them, and that you will help them throughout the recovery process will put you in a much better position to actually achieve some positive outcomes.

If you feel as if you have lost control of the situation, you may want to talk a deep breath before saying what you want to say. You should expect that this confrontation will likely be quite difficult. However, if your teenager sincerely does have a substance abuse problem, then talking to them about it will inevitably be necessary.

The Importance of Dual Diagnosis

Over the past few years, the teen psychology community has placed an increased emphasis on an approach to treatment known as dual diagnosis. Substance abuse disorders frequently exist alongside other common psychiatric issues. For examples, individuals who abuse illicit substances are more likely to be depressed. Consequently, individuals who are depressed are more likely to abuse illicit substances in response to their condition. In order to escape this potentially vicious cycle of negative feedback, it is important to try to address all relevant mental health conditions at the same time.

Dual diagnosis is a holistic approach to treatment that focuses on treating the whole person and each of the relevant issues that are at play. Many individuals who abuse illicit substances do so because they are trying to manage a deeper underlying psychological issue on their own. These issues can include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, PTSD, and a wide range of other common problems. As research at teen treatment centers such as Polaris has conclusively found, utilizing a comprehensive approach to treatment is far more effective than trying to address each of these conditions on their own. 

What are some of the most common treatments for teenage substance abuse?

Naturally, because such a significant portion of teens will experiment with substances before they reach adulthood, there are currently a wide variety of resources available to effectively address these issues. The best teen treatment centers are the ones who will be able to treat the whole person through carefully crafted, customized treatment options. The treatment that makes the most sense for one individual may not always be the one that is the best for another.

 There are a wide variety of resources available for both those concerned about the at-risk behaviors of their teenager and for those who are simply seeking to become more educated on the matter. These resources exist on the internet, at local libraries, through schools, and through various treatment centers. It is important for parents to educate themselves of the signs, risks, and treatments available for drug abuse, and the decision they make for their particular teenager is not something that should be taken lightly. Talking to a certified counselor, psychologist, or physician are all great places to begin. There are indeed many real solutions available for those who seek to find them.

For teenagers with the most serious substance abuse disorders, a Residential Treatment Center (RTC) such as Polaris may be the best option they have available. At an RTC, your teenager can be removed from the substances that are causing them problems as well as the outside factors that are contributing to their temptations to abuse. A typical stay at an RTC will be a few weeks, though this can vary tremendously depending on the individual. Because the staff at places such as Polaris are uniquely qualified to address these issues, they can also focus on the dual diagnosis necessary to ensure a comprehensive recovery.

In addition to an RTC, your teenager may benefit from family therapy, group therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and numerous other options. Experiential Treatment—where your teenager focuses on positive behaviors such as art, music, hiking, and yoga—may also be effective in addressing substance abuse disorders.

Finding Hope Along the Road to Recovery

If your teenager is currently suffering from a substance abuse disorder, you may be experiencing difficulty knowing exactly where to turn. However, despite your current challenges, it is important to remember that there is help available for those who need it. Polaris Teen Center is committed to providing solutions to teenagers who are in need of help. Even if recovery may seem to be impossible, it is important to remember that there are solutions within reach.

Help is something that is never out of reach. For more information on our Los Angeles based treatment center for teens, please contact us directly at 1-(844) 836-0222.

Polaris Teen Center | Website | + posts

Polaris Teen Center is a residential treatment facility for teens and adolescents suffering from severe mental health disorders. Our highly accredited facility is fully licensed and certified in Trauma Informed Care and is a part of the Behavioral Health Association of Providers (formerly AATA).