As parents, relatives, educators and community members, we can’t always know what’s going on in our teens’ lives. They don’t always tell us everything – and when we discover that our child has an addiction, it can feel devastating. We may ask ourselves, “What did I do wrong?” or “How didn’t I see this coming?” The truth is, even the most supportive and loving parents can find that their children are abusing substances. Teens go through phases of experimentation, and sometimes they find their way to substances on their own. Understanding some of the pressures that adolescents go through, however, can help us better understand what type of support that they need – both in preventing addiction and in treating it.
What We Know: The Causes of Addiction
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) highlights what we currently know about how addiction develops, and that does include the fact that some people are more vulnerable to addiction than others. It could be a genetic predisposition, especially if a close family member struggles with addiction; it is a family disease, and the vulnerability can get passed down between generations. Lack of parental supervision could be a factor, as teens require a healthy amount of supervision in order to help them make the right choices for their health. Teens who have experience early traumatic incidents may also find themselves leaning towards substances because it seems to take away their physical and/or emotional pain. Unfortunately, the effects are only temporary, and that’s when they may find themselves abusing substances in order to match that continuum of relaxation, euphoria and/or other pleasurable effects.
We also know that a teen’s environment can have great effects on the way they think and act. Our life experiences play a major role in who we become – and since adolescents are still growing, their brains are highly sensitive to the world around them.
Other Reasons Adolescents Abuse Substances
In the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, researchers asked 31 adolescents in recovery for prescription opioid abuse to complete questionnaires about themselves. They mainly wanted to learn about how their drug abuse started, and this is what they found:
- Peers/friends were doing it and seemed to be having fun, so they did it
- Bored with one drug, so they wanted to try something new/experience a new high
- Stress from difficult life situations
- Abused/became addicted to opioids after being prescribed medication for legitimate pain
Some of the adolescents emphasized that prescription opioid drugs were what led them to use heroin next, and many youth participants noted that they were high on marijuana when they abused prescription opioids for the first time. We’ve heard about “gateway” drugs before, and it’s obvious that curious teens may find themselves trying new substances as they become “used to” one high over another.
Unique Needs for Treatment
Adolescents have different needs than adults do, and this is because their brain is still forming and they’re still in school. Many teens don’t want to be held back several years in high school, which makes it much easier when they’re able to attend both a private educational setting and receive treatment accordingly. Parents unfortunately run the risk of underestimating the needs of their teen, which could cause them to look over some very obvious/concerning cues. Drug exposure places a teen at higher risk for abusing drugs later on in life, which means that treatment needs to be sought immediately.
The NIDA stated, “Recovery high schools…allow adolescents newly in recovery to be surrounded by a peer group supportive of recovery efforts and attitudes. Recovery schools can serve as an adjunct to formal substance abuse treatment, with students often referred by treatment providers and enrolled in concurrent treatment treatment for other mental health problems.”
Adolescents can progress more rapidly into addictive behaviors, and being in a setting that reinforces abstinence, sobriety and recovery overall could greatly influence the way they handle substances from then on. School counselors and teachers can keep an eye on those students who may be struggling with recovery, and close communication quarters can be kept between school personnel, the student’s healthcare team and their family.
Twelve Step Programs
Many adolescents find 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) to be effective, because they’re able to relate to others’ stories and learn from people who’ve been in their shoes before. Recovery leaders can guide teens into finding their own way through recovery while also forming a stronger spiritual base with God or another Higher Power. A lot of youth is struggling with emotional turmoil due to the experiences they’ve had at home and school, and spirituality can help provide them with some grounding.
In addition to this, teens may find that the service component of 12 step programs – helping others – sets a tone that their lives are meaningful and that they do have major contributions to bring to this world. Through volunteer work and other service-learning components, teens can build their self-confidence in being a part of something larger than themselves.
If you have a teen who has been struggling with substance abuse, guide them to seek the help they need, today. The first step of recovery is the most important one, and your teen will be thankful they developed some lifelong tools to make them stronger while also ensuring they receive the education that they need.
Adolescent Recovery of Cumberland Heights (ARCH) originally began in 1985 when there were few other adolescent programs like it in the country. In 2019, we’re expanding our continuum of services with ARCH Academy, a unique program that offers 60 days to 6 months of residential care to adolescent boys ages 14-18 who are struggling with alcohol and/or drug addiction. This new program stems from Cumberland Heights, which has been around since 1966, and is located in Kingston Springs, Tennessee. The adolescent age is a critical time for development, making this a crucial time of positive influence. For more information, call us today at 1-800-646-9998.