Tag Archives: Adolescent Substance Abuse

Tag Archives: Adolescent Substance Abuse


According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), around 37% of youth experienced a physical assault within a one-year period, and around 15% of children and youth experienced maltreatment by a caregiver. It’s unfortunate, but adolescents do experience traumatic events – through physical, sexual and emotional abuse, through terrorism, bullying, family violence and so much more. While youth are at an increased risk to partake in substance abuse related to peer pressure – primarily because they’re brain is still developing, and they aren’t able to think critically or rationalize the outcomes of a potential action – they may abuse substances for other reasons. For youth with little resources or support, substances may be seen as an outlet – a solution to numbing the pain they feel that’s come from a traumatic (or a series of traumatic) event.

Trauma and Adolescents

What is Trauma?

Trauma is defined by the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies as,

“Negative events that are emotionally painful and that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope.”

Adolescents experience extreme psychological distress, in addition to other stressors, when traumatic events occur. Some adolescents respond to these events differently, such as through the following behaviors:

  • Becoming very aggressive or very angry in nature
  • Engaging in self-harm
  • Experiencing depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Going through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which can involve nightmares, flashbacks, paranoia, irritability and more
  • Drinking or abusing drugs to distract them from the pain
  • Acting out in school or at home
  • No longer respecting authority
  • And more

In severe cases, complex trauma can occur – which can be incredibly debilitating for youth if help and support is provided.

What is Complex Trauma?

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network defines complex trauma as,

“Both children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events – often of an invasive, interpersonal nature – and the wide-ranging, long-term effects of this exposure.”

Youth who go through these events tend to have difficulty forming their sense of self, and they may also have trouble attaching to adult caregivers appropriately. In these instances, safety and stability is far and few between – because adolescents who’ve experienced complex trauma may have been let down by people they trusted.

A 2017 study published in the journal Psychiatric Annals explained that adolescents who’ve gone through complex trauma may exhibit disorganized attachment behaviors that typically revolve are one of the following:

Helplessness: abandonment, betrayal, failure, dejection

Coercive control: blame, rejection, intrusiveness, hostility

When one of these “self-identities” become part of an adolescent’s social understanding of themselves, they struggle with forming relationships with others and even with their own self-esteem. Once substances are added to the mix, youth may find their problems only worsen – but if help is sought immediately, an adolescent may be able to develop a healthier sense of identity and connection to others as they work through the trauma they’ve experienced.

Adolescents: Healing from Trauma and Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is typically used as an external coping strategy for adolescents during this time, and there are healthier coping mechanisms that can be taught in treatment. A publication completed by researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) titled “Treating Substance Abuse Issues in Traumatized Adolescents and Young Adults” identified several coping strategies that are learned by adolescents in therapy while in addiction recovery:

  • Relaxation – youth can learn to relax through mindfulness techniques such as progressive relaxation, breathwork and more
  • Emotion regulation – teens explore their emotions in therapy and learn strategies for identifying specific emotions they’re feeling, along with tools to express those feelings in healthy ways so they can move forward
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – a more hands-on approach, CBT allows individuals to work with their therapist on changing old, negative thoughts and beliefs and replacing them with newer, more positive and more productive ones that will take them to where they need to be in life
  • Encouraging resistance of avoidance behaviors – a positive support system will encourage youth to choose the safer, more healthier options to strong emotions they’re experiencing – and these words of affirmation will only serve to reinforce the recovery work that teens are doing in treatment

12-Step Programs

To address substance abuse specifically, adolescent boys who attend the ARCH Academy will be able to engage in full 12-Step participation. This will give them the chance to connect with other teens who may have gone through similar experiences, as well as to learn from others experiences and share their own. In addition to this, 12-Step programs provide structure and support for the building of spiritual strength.

Recovery is Possible

If you have a teen who has gone through trauma and has been attempting to deal with these devastating life events through substance abuse, speak with a professional from ARCH Academy today. The sooner they seek professional help, the sooner they can be on their way towards healing.

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 located in Kingston Springs 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 Nashville, 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.

Teen boy abusing substances to cope with difficult emotionsTrauma and difficult life circumstances are an unfortunate reality for many of our teens; the National Child Traumatic Stress Network states that adolescents who have been exposed to these types of events are more likely to abuse substances in an attempt to alleviate some of their distress. Self-medication is a common factor in adolescent substance abuse – especially if friends, parents or other family members are seen self-medicating as well. Some of the risk factors for adolescent substance abuse are:

  • Poor academic performance
  • Skipping school
  • Isolating themselves from friends or family
  • Becoming defiant or hostile at school and/or home
  • Acting secretive
  • No longer having an interest in hobbies they once used to enjoy
  • And more

A 2017 study published in the journal PLOS One found from a survey of 6,266 students from 99 primary, middle and high schools that self-medication occurs amongst 45.8% of adolescents. For many of these students, pain relievers, cold or cough medicines, analgesics and antacids were the most prevalent substances abused – and at this age, many teens do not properly read drug labels or instructions appropriately, which place them at increased risk for dependency and overdose.

Adolescents are at a unique time period where they’re likely to go through hormonal changes which could raise feelings of depression, anxiety, confusion and more. Rather than your teen struggling with these changes alone, they should have a safe space where they can work through their concerns. Practice open communication with your teen. If you can see that they’re struggling, provide them with resources for them to go to for additional support. Show your teens what it means to work through difficult emotions in healthy ways rather than through self-medication. If your teen is abusing substances, contact the Adolescent Recovery of Cumberland Heights today.

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.

Teen addiction risk factorsSubstance abuse and addiction can greatly affect the brain’s functions over a period of time; adolescence is a period in which the brain is still developing, which makes our youth even more susceptible to physical, mental, social and spiritual repercussions. If you have a teen, you likely know that it is during these adolescent years that youth often begin to experiment – and become exposed to – substances. A question that has often been debated, however, is what makes one teen more susceptible to substance abuse over another. When presented, why might one adolescent turn away while another seizes the opportunity? As parents, teachers, professionals and family members, we want to ensure the safety of our teens – but in order to do this, we first need to know the risk factors that may be influencing their susceptibility.

Risk Factors for Adolescent Substance Abuse

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there are a wide range of genetic and environmental influencers that can make a teen more susceptible to abusing substances, but each person is different – which can certainly make it hard to predict which teens we need to be worrying about versus which ones we don’t. A 2017 study published in the journal Psychological Medicine assessed 1,037 people for child and adolescent risk factors pertaining to substance dependence. This is what they found:

  1. Low Family SES – researchers found that an adolescent whose parents are lower on the SES scale (such as parents who primarily work in positions such as cashiers or machine operators) are likely to be at higher risk for substance abuse than those whose parents are in higher SES scales, such as through being a manager, secretary or physician.
  2. Family history of substance dependence – previous studies have shown that genetics can increase our chances of susceptibility to substances; the closer the family member, the greater the risk factor.
  3. Childhood conduct disorder – symptoms of conduct disorder typically include deceitful behavior such as lying or shoplifting, destructive behavior such as vandalism, aggressive behavior such as cruelty to animals or bullying and more.
  4. Childhood depression – youth who experience symptoms of depression may experience sadness or a loss of energy and they may turn to substances in an attempt to cope with these undesirable symptoms.
  5. Early exposure to substances – using or purchasing substances, especially around the ages of 13, 15, or both, has been shown to increase a teen’s risk for abusing them later on. With this, one could guess that it’s this constant exposure that somewhat “normalizes” use for teens, making it seemingly easier for them to use.
  6. Adolescent frequent alcohol use – teens who reported drinking 5 or more days a week were at greater risk for developing alcohol use disorder (AUD).
  7. Adolescent frequent tobacco use – teens who use tobacco on a daily basis are likely to move on to other substances, such as alcohol and cannabis.
  8. Adolescent frequent cannabis use – youth who reported using cannabis at least 5 days a week are considered frequent cannabis users and are likely to use other substances as well.
  9. Male adolescents – researchers from the study found that male adolescents are more at risk for substance abuse than female adolescents, which could be related to developmental and social-related differences.

Signs of Teen Substance Abuse

As mentioned earlier, these risk factors cannot predict whether a teen will be more vulnerable to substances or not because each teen is different. There are adolescents who struggle with substance abuse and who do not meet any of the risk factors mentioned above and vice versa. As a more general note, it’s best to keep in mind the symptoms of teen substance abuse so that we can provide our adolescents with support right when they need it. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) lists some important symptoms to watch out for:

  • If your teen’s eyes are bloodshot or if their pupils are larger/smaller than normal
  • Sudden changes in appetite and sleeping patterns
  • Impaired coordination
  • Unusual smells
  • Changes in grooming/appearance
  • Skipping class
  • Sudden changes in friends
  • Acting isolated and withdrawn from others
  • Frequently getting into trouble at work, school or home
  • And more

Help Your Adolescent

Youth do not always have the ability to identify when help is needed to be sought and that’s where our parents, educators and community members can step in. By informing our teens of the dangerous risks involved with abusing substances, along with guiding them to the right resources when we recognize symptoms of substance abuse, we are combatting the tight pull that addiction tries to have on our loved ones.

If your teen is ready to start taking hold of their journey to recovery, please call Cumberland Heights today.

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.

How adolescent substance abuse affects the familyWatching a loved one head down the path of addiction is devastating and if they’re an adolescent, the pain sears even deeper as we worry how this will affect their health, their future and their life as a whole. Adolescents are typically considered between the ages of 10 and 19 years of age, when many physical, mental and spiritual changes take place.

Addiction certainly disrupts these processes by causing our youth to think and act on cravings to use substances – and if you’re a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, guardian or other family member, there’s no doubt that it’s taking a toll on your health.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published a piece of literature that identifies several key themes that many families experience when someone in the family is abusing substances:


  1. Negativity – the family’s mood often drops, with family members complaining more or being more critical. Positivity often becomes ignored as some family members may feel guilty, angry, sad or hopeless.
  2. Parental inconsistency – as the family’s structure becomes less stable, both parents and teens may become confused on boundaries and the difference between “right” and “wrong”.
  3. Parental denial – some family members may fail to recognize that their teen is struggling. Unfortunately, this only perpetuates the addiction and neglect support for their teen.
  4. Miscarried expression of anger – family members who are stressed may find themselves repressing their anger, which may take forms in other ways.
  5. Self-medication – teens may be abusing substances to deal with a physical or psychological concern, or they may be experimenting.
  6. Unrealistic parental expectations – if teens are not given loving and supportive messages throughout their recovery, they may feel that they’ll never meet parents’ expectations.

In recognizing the many ways that teen addiction can affect the entire family, individuals can take preventative and proactive measures towards their family’s health and wellness. If you have a teen who is abusing substances, speak with someone from Cumberland Heights today – it’s time they seek help.


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.


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