How Addiction Shapes Teen Growth

October 3, 2019

Though it seems that teen drug use as it pertains to cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines is stable, if not on the decline, drug use and abuse is still prevalent. Whether it be alcohol abuse, prescription medication misuse and abuse, and one of the more common behaviors that we are seeing, vaping, teens today are still experimenting with substances far more than we would like to see. And for this reason, teenage addiction remains a serious concern.

Prescription drug misuse and abuse among today’s teenagers is a significant issue. According to data from National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) regarding teens and young persons, more than 5,700 youth in 2014 indicated that they had used prescription pain relievers without a doctor’s guidance or prescription. And though we’re talking about medications here, it doesn’t mean that these substances are less harmful to a teen’s body, especially during their growing years.

Misconceptions about the effects of illegal substances on the body

There are several misconceptions amongst the general public and especially teenagers that prescription drugs will create less harm to the body than illegal substances. But this is nothing more than a misconception. In reality, prescription drug abuse and subsequent addiction can have just as many negative health ramifications.

When prescription drugs are used incorrectly, they can bring on a variety of consequences and health-related reactions.

  • Stimulants, which are found in a variety of prescription medications including commonly known ones such as Ritalin and Adderall have side effects that are very similar to the effects one would experience when using cocaine. These effects can include paranoia, extremely high body temperature, and an irregular heartbeat.
  • Opioids are found in prescription medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others will affect the brain in a similar way to heroin. Side effects from these medications can also include drowsiness, constipation, nausea, and slowed breathing, depending on the amount of the drug that has been consumed.
  • Depressants such as diazepam, clonazepam, and others can result in slurred speech, shallow breathing, disorientation, fatigue, lack of coordination, and seizures, especially upon withdrawal of heavy or chronic use.

For teens who are still growing and for whom their bodies and brains are still developing, prescription drug and illegal substance addiction can impact their ability to set priorities, think strategically, and control impulses. With any mind-altering drug, prescription drug abuse and addiction can seriously hinder judgment and inhibition. This puts teens at a heightened risk for sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, misuse of other kinds of drugs which can lead to further addictions, and engaging in additional risky and dangerous behaviors.

Strategies to help your teen minimize drug abuse

If your teen has been experimenting with a prescription or other drug use, they will likely need outside treatment to beat, or avoid an addiction.

  • Education – A popular misuse of prescription drugs ties to the habit of using them as study aids. Teens in college, and even those in high school, often feel pressured to get good grades. With so many competing priorities and tests occurring frequently, teens often feel that they need assistance to get in the right amount of studying. As such, many teens turn to ADHD medication, thinking that it can help them improve their academic performance and can help them get better test scores. However, increased and frequent use can lead to an addiction that can be hard to overcome.
  • Medication storage and disposal – This all begs the question as to how teens are gaining access to these medications. It is an unfortunate reality that in most cases, teens are obtaining these substances from family and friends. Today’s teens are not afraid to raid a medicine cabinet here or there to swipe a pill or two. Sadly, what they think will be a one-time occurrence or theft turns into a repeat occurrence as the teen develops the addiction and dependence on the medication. Thus, it is imperative that parents and those who are tied to the prescription practice safe storage and disposal of medications so that the substances are harder to access.
  • Monitoring of prescription drug use:  Doctors are increasingly writing prescriptions for painkillers, far beyond what they did in years past. And, unfortunately, pharmacists do not habitually check prescription drug registries. This means that it is easier than ever for prescriptions to be over-prescribed and ultimately misused.

The physical effects of addiction on your teen

Though some teens will eventually grow out of their interest in experimenting with drugs and other substances, this is not always the case. Teenagers, by and large, are risk-takers that don’t think through the consequences of their actions until after action is taken. And, unfortunately, the experimentation of drugs and alcohol is often at its highest during the formative years when teens aren’t yet completely in control of their actions and what results from certain decisions.

The years right before adulthood are crucial to healthful cognitive and brain function as an adult. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that teens practice healthy behaviors and decisions making. Herein lies the conundrum in that teens often do not yet realize the consequences of their actions and can feel like just one time trying a drug will not be harmful, or that it will not lead to an addiction. But teens are not yet strong enough to ward off the temptation that can come with something that makes them feel good or helps them to escape reality. Drug abuse and the resulting addiction will impact the teen brain’s ability to behave appropriately in the short-term, and will also hinder proper growth and development that is important for later years.

Substance abuse and addiction affect the teen’s brain by:

  • Interference with neurotransmitters and causing damage to the connections within the teen’s brain
  • Reducing the teen’s ability to experience pleasure at a “normal” level, thus causing the teen to think that they need more and more
  • Developing problems with memory so that the teen feels that they need help from the drugs to properly function and get through the day
  • Inducing missed opportunities when the teen is at their maximum learning potential
  • Creating expectations of unhealthy habits that become a part of the brain’s circuitry
  • Inhibiting the development of perceptual abilities

Social effects of addiction on your teen

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Aside from the aforementioned physical risks that teens will often experience as the result of drug abuse and other addictive behaviors, there are a variety of additional consequences that can follow teens into their adult years. These behaviors and consequences can include:

  • Criminal records that cannot be expunged
  • Increased prevalence of car accidents
  • Increased likelihood to participate in assaults or become the victim of an assault
  • Higher chance of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease or an unwanted pregnancy
  • Deteriorating in academic performance that results in wasted academic opportunities and success
  • Less likelihood to follow an academic pursuit that will yield a positive career path
  • Improved likelihood of damaging relationships with family and friends

Teens that engage in addictive activities are also not embraced as positively in social settings as they might think. While some teens might think they come across as cool or ready to tackle anything, these addictive behaviors are far more likely to isolate them and negatively impact positive friendships. In fact, teens who engage in addictive activities related to drugs, sex, alcohol, and more, are far more likely to develop relationships with others who participate in the same. This can lead to the teen falling into a trap that they can’t get out of as there will be a less positive influence to create a healthy change.

Mental effects of addiction on your teen

Many people, teens included, who experience an addiction to drugs or alcohol are also diagnosed with other mental disorders. The reverse is true also in that those who experience mental disorders are far more likely to develop behaviors that lead to addiction. In comparison with the general public, teens who are addicted to drugs are about two times as prevalent to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders.

Mental health disorders and illnesses are frequently associated with and caused by:

  • Cocaine
  • Inhalants, which can also lead to asphyxiation, suffocation, convulsions, seizures, and more
  • Ketamine
  • Kratom
  • LSD, which is one of the most potent mood-altering drugs, and is commonly known as acid
  • Marijuana
  • Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, commonly known as ecstasy or MDMA
  • Methamphetamine
  • Phencyclidine, known as PCP or angel dust, leads to hallucinations including a distortion of sights, sounds, self, and your environment
  • Prescription stimulants are generally used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy which consists of uncontrollable episodes of deep sleep. These drugs increase attention-span, alertness, and energy.
  • Steroids (appearance- and performance-enhancing drugs)

Helping your teen through their addiction

Teens are prone to behaviors that include experimentation and rebellion. If your teen has become subject to addiction and is struggling to get past it, you will need to help them seek assistance before it is too late. The longer an addiction goes on, especially in a teen, the harder it will be to break the negative behavior and get your teen on a path to a healthier lifestyle.

Drug and alcohol abuse disorders are far more likely to occur during the teen years. The younger a person is when they first start to experiment with drugs, alcohol, or even sex, the more likely it is that addiction will be formed.

Recurring and abundant drug use is linked to the brain’s inability to develop the fatty tissue that surrounds the brain cells. These fatty tissues are what aids in the function of the nervous system, as well as in the comprehension and retention of information. Over time, the effects on the brain from the continued use of drugs and alcohol will include:

  • Powerful changes in the neurons and brain circuits within the brain
  • The development of a tolerance that will need more and more drugs so that the same effect can be achieved
  • Overstimulation of the reward circuit in the brain

Ongoing research suggests that teenage brains react to stimulants, nicotine, and cannabis differently as do adults. As such, parents need to keep these addicting substances out of the hands of their teenagers and younger children. And, as teens get access to these substances outside of the home, it is even more important that parents must stay monitor their teen’s behavior for changes indicative of drug use.

This said, if a teen has developed an addiction, outside assistance will be necessary. The first step will be in taking your teen to see their medical provider. The doctor will likely conduct a variety of tests to understand high-level impacts on the teen’s health, and to provide initial recommendations for treatment. These tests will include a variety of questions about the teen’s use of alcohol and drugs, as well as the associated risk behaviors that the teen might be partaking in. For example, alarming behaviors might include sexual promiscuity or driving under the influence or riding with others who are under the influence. Your medical provider might also give your teen a urine or blood test so that they can specifically identify the type of drugs that your teen has been taking. This assessment will work to determine how serious the teen’s drug use is and if the teen needs to be referred to a treatment program.

Treatment approaches are generally tailored to address the specific concerns of the patient. Some treatment centers provide outpatient programs. However, in the case of teen addiction, an inpatient scenario might be more effective. In an inpatient scenario, the teen is completely separated from the accessibility to the addictive substances and is also separated from the triggers that might have led to the behaviors that drove the substance abuse. This allows the teen to fully immerse themselves in the process of healing and in developing coping mechanisms that will help them to be successful post-treatment.

Teens who have experienced addiction need full-on support from their family and loved ones. Teen addiction wreaks havoc on a teen’s physical, mental, and social development. Therefore, parents who are fully dedicated to the healing process without judgment, and who are willing to find and develop a safe environment for their healing teens, will provide their children with the best likelihood for sobriety and recovery.

If your teen is struggling with any form of addiction, you have options. Hillcrest – and our trained staff – can help. Reach out today in order to find out how we can help your teen heal from addiction and start to move forward on the road to recovery!

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