What it Means to Have a Substance Use Disorder as a Teen

What it Means to Have a Substance Use Disorder as a Teen

September 9, 2022

Substance use disorder in teens often starts as recreational or casual. Over time, an occasional social drinker starts to binge drink regularly, or someone who occasionally uses prescription pain medication for pain control takes more than the prescribed dosage or progresses to harder drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine. If this sounds familiar to you (or this progression into addiction has occurred in your teen), it may be time to reassess your relationship with substances. It is not easy to recognize whether you or someone you know has a toxic relationship with drugs. However, it is essential to learn how to recognize the signs of addiction, as this can help you determine if it is time to reach out for support.


A Word About Substance Use Disorder Statistics

Addiction is a disease that is far more prevalent than people may realize. When people talk about drug (and alcohol) addiction among teens, it often brings to mind certain images. Addiction is frequently connected to people who are uneducated or undereducated, unemployed or underemployed, and the homeless. The stigma surrounding addiction also suggests that drug and alcohol use disorders disproportionately affect specific demographics while sparing others. Statistics show this dangerous misconception only furthers the challenge faced by millions of Americans with drug use disorders.


The current statistics on addiction in the United States show that drug and alcohol use disorders can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, gender identity, education, or economic standing. A few of the most notable statistics from recent surveys and research studies are below. 


  •  Today nearly 22 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 76 have at least one substance addiction. Of those, fewer than ten percent will ever seek or receive addiction treatment at a treatment program like Hillcrest. 
  • Each year, just under 100,000 people of all ages and demographics die from complications, illnesses, or accidents related to alcohol use. 
  • In 2017, nearly 48,000 people died from opioid overdose and an additional 15,000 from complications related to heroin overdose. 
  • In 2017, cocaine was responsible for one out of every five or 20% of all drug overdose deaths. 
  • More than 90% of those who have a substance use disorder began to drink or use drugs before the age of 18. 
  • Despite ongoing efforts of law enforcement and a renewed effort towards addiction education, substance use, including alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines, has steadily increased over the last decade. 
  • Approximately 4% of the nation’s youth (individuals under the age of 17) have a substance use disorder.


The complications of ongoing substance use and abuse inevitably lead to harmful and sometimes fatal impacts on your (or a loved one’s) physical and emotional health. It is essential to identify and acknowledge a loved one’s toxic relationship with drugs to ensure you can help them find and receive the support and treatment they need to get well. Many studies show that early treatment and intervention are vital to achieving and maintaining lasting sobriety. What can you do if you are worried about a friend or loved one’s relationship with drugs or alcohol? Below are a few helpful tips for spotting a toxic relationship with drugs in your teen. 


Look for Changes in Your Loved Ones Normal Habits

When you spend a lot of time around someone, whether a close friend or a loved one, you become familiar with their habits and routines. When addiction begins to take hold, what is “normal” usually starts to change soon after. Although minor changes are common at first, they are also the easiest to miss. It is helpful to watch for changes in your loved one, such as new cravings, problems at work, appetite or diet changes, differences in their sleeping habits, changes to their social groups and activities, and changes in their personal hygiene or appearance. 


Changes in Personal and Physical Appearance

Changes in your loved one’s physical appearance may vary depending on their substance of choice. Indications of heroin or injectable drug use will look different than what you might see with prescription drug abuse. Consequently, some physical changes may be harder to spot. Watch out for changes to their appearance (and health) such as flushed (red) cheeks, bloodshot eyes, runny hose, disheveled appearance, poor hygiene, and nosebleeds. 


Some drugs may result in unexplained bruises or “track marks” on the arms. If your loved one wears long sleeves in hot weather, it may also indicate injectable drug use. Other important physical symptoms may include shaking and tremors. Remember that physical changes usually vary from person to person, so looking for differences specific to the individual rather than what is “expected” overall is essential. 


Secrecy and Increased Isolation

Some people, both with or without a substance use disorder, are naturally more withdrawn or reserved than others. In these cases, increased isolation or introverted behaviors are not out of the ordinary. However, if someone who is naturally extroverted, social, and outgoing begins to withdraw and become uncharacteristically reserved, it may be a sign of concern. Look for changes in behavior such as stealing, avoiding making eye contact, locking bedroom and bathroom doors, and going out or staying out late at night. Other behavioral changes that could be concerning include missing work, avoiding family activities, and changes to their social groups. 


New or Worsening Physical and Emotional Health Challenges

Drug addiction can have many wide-reaching physical and psychological effects when left untreated. Someone who uses drugs frequently will eventually develop a tolerance to their effects. When this occurs, it means they need higher and more frequent doses of their drug of choice to achieve the same “high” they remember from their first use. Tolerance and more frequent dosing are a gateway to most substance use disorders. 


With addiction comes medical and mental health complications. Although a friend or loved one may suffer from symptoms related to a medical condition before they start using, those symptoms are likely to worsen with untreated drug use. Similarly, symptoms of mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression, are often further exacerbated by ongoing drug and alcohol use. This is because addicts often turn to substances to self-medicate their symptoms. 


Self-medication is a dangerous practice. When people self-medicate, it means they use drugs or alcohol to help manage symptoms of another condition, such as chronic pain or anxiety. Drinking or using drugs helps dull their symptoms for a short time, allowing them to actively participate in daily activities and address needed obligations such as family or work commitments. Unfortunately, the effects of substances wear off, often in a matter of hours, allowing their symptoms to return-often more forcefully than before- taking another dose of drugs or another drink necessary to keep symptoms at bay. 


This cycle will eventually lead to new or worsening health effects. Ongoing drug and alcohol abuse have a harmful impact on virtually every organ and system in the body. In time and without treatment, medical issues such as kidney failure, heart disease, lung disease, stomach problems, liver failure, and various types of cancers can occur. Additionally, your friend or loved ones’ mental health can suffer from untreated addiction. Many substances can lead to new or worsening mental health conditions, including worsening of pre-existing symptoms for which they first used drugs or alcohol to manage. 


What to Do When You Have a Toxic Relationship with Drugs

If you, a friend, or a loved one has a toxic relationship with drugs, it is crucial to seek help. At Hillcrest, our caring and compassionate treatment team will work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses your specific needs and goals as you pursue sobriety. Addiction does not “look” the same for everyone, and the path you take to recovery is unique to you. Therefore, it is crucial to choose a treatment program where the providers and therapy programs are such that they focus on the challenge that first led you to use drugs or drink. 


There are several steps to an effective drug addiction treatment program.



The first step in successful addiction treatment is detoxification. Detoxification is the process by which your body rids itself of drugs and alcohol in preparation for entering residential treatment. Detoxification can be difficult and, in some cases, dangerous. Consequently, it is essential to undergo detoxification in a safe and medically monitored program. 


Addiction therapy

At the core of successful addiction treatment is therapy. Overcoming addiction and maintaining lasting recovery requires understanding addiction and learning the tools needed to manage relapse triggers after treatment ends. There are several treatment options, including inpatient and outpatient levels of care. Choosing the best program to meet your needs is essential. So, it is important to consider factors unique to your treatment, including your addiction’s severity, the type of drug or drugs you use, and how long you have been using. It is also necessary to consider any co-occurring mental or physical health conditions that will require treatment as part of your therapy program.


At Hillcrest, we work with our patients and their families to ensure their treatment experience is specific to their needs. Our experienced, compassionate treatment staff are here to ensure you receive the evidence-based, quality treatment you need to achieve and maintain lasting recovery. 


Our California rehab offers a range of treatment options and therapy models designed to help each of our patients safely and successfully achieve their treatment goals. We understand where addiction treatment is concerned, one size does not fit all. Therefore cookie-cutter style treatments are not going to be successful. Addiction doesn’t take a day off, and decades of experience and research have proven that early intervention at a professional rehab is the key to a successful recovery.


If you or a loved one are ready to take the first steps towards a lifetime of freedom from addiction, today is the best day to start your journey. Recovery from addiction is not easy, but we are here to help. To learn more about our treatment programs and services at Hillcrest, contact a member of our admissions team today






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