One of the distinct features of the teen years is the propensity for experimenting with illicit substances, such as alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs. This is not a new phenomenon; alcohol, nicotine, and drug experimentation has always been a common behavior among teenagers. In today’s teen culture, marijuana, alcohol, and prescription pain medications are among the most abused substances.
Many factors influence whether an adolescent may develop a serious problem with drugs or alcohol, including genetics, curiosity, thrill-seeking behaviors, family problems, emotional struggles, mood disorders, history of physical or sexual abuse, academic stress, peer pressure, and social problems. It remains a mystery as to why some teens experiencing typical age-related angst and stress develop a substance use disorder (SUD) while others do not.
Dangers of Teen Substance Abuse
The adverse effects of substance abuse on teens are multifold. Each substance of abuse carries its own unique set of dangerous consequences, but in general substance abuse in the teen years can lead to a lifelong drug or alcohol dependency. Some of the specific dangers of teen substance abuse include:
- The use of drugs and alcohol can lead to academic suspension or expulsion
- Abusing prescription pain medications such as OxyContin or Vicodin can result in a heroin addiction
- Substance abuse can result in impairments in cognitive functions or permanent brain damage (alcohol, inhalants), respiratory distress (sedatives and opioids), heart attack or stroke (Spice, methamphetamine)
- Abusing drugs or alcohol can fuel risky behaviors, such as driving under the influence that can result in a car accident or DUI, unprotected sex, and impulsive, aggressive assaults
- Substance abuse can result in a co-occurring mental health disorder
Signs of Teen Substance Abuse
There are obvious signs of substance abuse, such as finding drugs or paraphernalia in your teen’s backpack or bedroom. However, most signs of teen drug or alcohol use involve distinct changes in behaviors, appearance, and moods.
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in the group of friends he or she hangs out with
- Declining academic performance
- Becoming hostile and defiant
- Ditching school and extracurricular activities
- Missing curfew
- Trouble at school, including conflicts or complaints from teachers or fellow students
- Avoiding eye contact, acting secretive, avoidant behaviors
Changes in appearance:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Pinpoint pupils
- Track marks on arms or legs
- Loss of interest in hygiene
- Smells of marijuana or alcohol
- Mood swings
- Deceitful behavior
- Changes in personality
- Inappropriate laughter
- Loud and obnoxious behavior
- Lack of motivation
- Poor concentration
- Emotional instability
- Memory problems
Other symptoms of substance abuse include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Profuse sweating
- Runny nose
- Shakes, hand tremors
- Excessive thirst
- Lack of coordination
Treatment for Teen Substance Abuse
When it is evident that your teen is abusing drugs or alcohol, getting help for your child is imperative. Addiction and chemical dependency will develop the longer the substance abuse continues. As tolerance increases the teen will require higher and more frequent levels of dosing. If the teen exhibits withdrawal symptoms when attempting to cease using the substance, they may need a medical detox before beginning addiction treatment.
Medical detoxification is necessary if there is a lengthy history of chronic drug or alcohol abuse. A medical detox provides professional supervision and medication management for the withdrawal symptoms that arise. The teen will undergo detox in a safe, supportive medical environment until the withdrawals cease.
Following a successful detox, the teen enters either an inpatient or outpatient treatment program for a specified period of time. Generally, the more entrenched addictions require an inpatient stay that provides 24/7 monitoring for a minimum of 30 days. Outpatient treatment is ideal for a mild to moderate SUD, with program participation requirements based on the type of substance of abuse, any court requirements, and the history of the SUD.
Both inpatient and outpatient programs offer similar treatment elements to different degrees, including individual therapy, group therapy, medication management, treatment of a co-occurring mental health disorder, addiction education, relapse prevention, and peer recovery group participation.
About BNI Treatment Centers
Behavioral Neuroscience Institute (BNI) Treatment Centers provides individually tailored safe and effective medical detoxification services for teens aged 12-17. Owned and operated by medical doctors, the team at BNI provides powerful medical and psychological support to teens in early recovery, in addition to developing their long-term treatment plan.