Is Your Teen Experimenting With Drugs?

Research is providing us with new information about addiction in teenagers. The following is a summary of the latest findings, translated into terms that parents can readily understand and utilize.

Did you know that about 80% of adolescents have tried alcohol, and that 5% would be considered to have a substance abuse problem? These are the findings being discussed in latest issues of “Counselor, the Magazine for Addiction Professionals.”

As you are probably already aware, substance abuse runs in families. Risk factors for substance abuse include:

  • A genetic pre-disposition
  • Friends who are substance abusers
  • Living in a community where drugs are commonly sold
  • A fragmented family unit
  • Early onset of puberty

Adolescence is now starting at younger ages than in previous generations. The average age that girls go into adolescence is between 10 and 11, when they reach 17% body fat. Boys go into adolescence between 12 and 13.  It should be noted that early onset of puberty plays a factor here in a number of ways.

The myelin sheathing, which insulates nerves, increases by 100% in teenagers. Myelin sheathing is responsible for the conduction of nerve impulses to the brain. As the nerves become twice as efficient, this feeds the intensity and speed of a person’s reaction, contributing to the experience of mood swings.

The teen years are also time of the lowest levels of Serotonin in the human brain during human life. Serotonin is the primary transmitter in the limbic system, having to do with morale and moods. Low serotonin levels create a state in which teens are more susceptible to feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

Major life transitions like a divorce, a death in the family, moving homes, and changing schools are all factors that can throw a teen into a tailspin. Although normal and sometimes unavoidable experiences of life, teens may be particularly vulnerable, and may need added support during these times.

Signs to watch for in your teen include:

  • Extreme risk-taking behavior
  • Delinquent behavior
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Inability to regulate feelings
  • Absence of appropriate emotional responses
  • Inconsistent or ineffective parental boundaries
  • Hostility toward parental figures
  • Ongoing depressed or irritable moods

Adolescents with undiagnosed Anxiety Disorders, ADD and Depression often self-medicate to tolerate uncomfortable feelings. Left untreated, these disorders can impair the adolescent’s ability to respond successfully to substance abuse treatment. Psychiatric evaluations are beneficial and necessary in these situations.

Treatment of substance abuse problems in teens is more successful if addressed early. Teens who enter treatment at older ages are less likely to follow the treatment guidelines. Also, once a teen turns 18 the parent’s authority is diminished, therefore there is great value getting help for your child at the earliest possible opportunity.

A substance abuse treatment experience that results in the teen remaining sober for one year increases the likelihood of the teen remaining sober in the following years. One key to a successful treatment experience is a positive connection and rapport established between the teen and their therapist. Another factor is the follow-up care that is given after treatment is completed, including, but not limited to:

  • Ongoing personal therapy
  • Ongoing support groups
  • Ongoing uplifting and supportive activities

To summarize, when assessing whether their teen is at risk for substance abuse parents will want to consider biological, psychological, social factors, as well the major life transitions your teen may be going through.

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