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How Drug and Alcohol Addiction Affects Teens and Youth
The teen years are when many people begin to experiment with drugs and alcohol, as this is often the time for taking risks and pushing boundaries.
Teens and young adults face unique challenges and obstacles that can cause them to seek substance use at a young age. Unfortunately, substance use early in life can lead a teen to develop an addiction that carries into their adult life if left untreated.
While this curiosity and desire to experiment are natural for people of this age, it can become incredibly dangerous and put the teen at risk of addiction and overdose.
Because the teenage brain is still developing, drug use during the teen years can result in social problems and cognitive problems that can lead to further issues at school and home.
Teens and young adults are also more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors when using substances, which can lead to teenage pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Early intervention is essential with young people, as is specialized treatment that allows them to recover around their peers while not falling behind in their academic work.
Scope of Substance Abuse in Teens
Drug use, alcohol abuse, and addiction are all serious health issues among today’s teens and young adults, especially with the current opioid epidemic in the United States.
Statistics related to substance abuse and teens include:
- Between 8 and 9% of 12- to 17-year-olds in America report using drugs in the past 30 days.
- By the time teenagers reach 12th grade, approximately 46% report having tried illicit drugs, and 62% report abusing alcohol.
- The most common drug abused by teenagers is alcohol, followed by marijuana.
- Opioid overdose deaths have increased more than 500% since 1999 among youth ages 15-24.
- 9% of teenagers in the 12th grade report using marijuana daily.
- Young adults ages 15-24 make up approximately 11% of all overdose deaths.
Substance abuse is prevalent amongst America’s youth, as is an ever-increasing risk and danger of overdose deaths. For these reasons, it’s essential that treatment is tailored to the needs and challenges of teenagers.
Risk Factors for Addiction Issues in Teens and Youths
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most adults with a substance use disorder began using substances when they were teens or young adults.
Still, some teens are more prone to abuse substances than others, especially when at least one or two risk factors are present.
Risk factors for addiction issues in teens and youth include:
- Family history of addiction: Teens with a family history of substance abuse are more vulnerable to developing addiction.
- Lack of parental supervision: The absence of proper parental guidance and support may increase the likelihood of substance use and addiction.
- Academic problems: Struggles in school can lead to feelings of frustration or alienation, which may contribute to substance use.
- Early aggressive behavior: Behavioral problems during childhood can signal a higher risk of addiction in adolescence and early adulthood.
- Peer substance use: Associating with peers who use substances can significantly influence an individual’s likelihood of substance use and addiction.
- Brain development: Adolescents’ still-developing brains make them more susceptible to addiction due to their lower impulse control and increased vulnerability to substance tolerance.
- Undiagnosed mental health problems: Unaddressed mental health issues can increase the risk of self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.
- Drug availability: Easy access to drugs, alcohol, or nicotine can increase the risk of addiction.
Signs of Substance Abuse in Teens
It can be difficult to tell when a teenager is suffering from substance abuse, especially if they are very private or have other mental health disorders at the same time.
Signs of substance abuse in teens include:
- Possession of drug paraphernalia, such as pipes, rolling papers, or lighters
- Changes in sleep patterns or appetite
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Bloodshot eyes or widely dilated pupils
- Unexplained absences or tardiness to school or other activities
- Changes in relationships, including new friends or distancing from old friends
- A decrease in academic performance or a loss of interest in school
- Shifts in mood and personality, such as becoming sullen, withdrawn, or depressed
- Decreased motivation and engagement in activities they once enjoyed
- Poor hygiene and a decline in physical appearance
Remember that these signs may not necessarily indicate substance abuse, but they can be warning signs or may indicate a different mental health disorder.
It’s important to observe if multiple signs are occurring simultaneously or if they are sudden or extreme. If you suspect your teen may be battling substance abuse, seek professional help as soon as possible.
Effects of Substance Abuse in Teens and Youth
Substance abuse can affect all areas of a teenager’s life and may hit particularly hard in the areas of school and personal relationships with friends and family.
The effects of substance abuse in teens can be particularly detrimental, as they are still developing, and can set the tone for substance use and addiction later on in their lives.
Some of the effects of substance abuse on teens and youth can include:
- Impaired brain development: Substance abuse can negatively impact the developing brain, leading to long-term cognitive and emotional issues.
- Poor decision-making skills: Substance abuse impairs judgment, leading to risky behavior and poor decision-making.
- Mental health issues: Teens who abuse drugs and alcohol are at a higher risk of developing anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health disorders.
- Poor academic performance: Substance abuse can lead to a decline in academic performance, affecting focus, memory, and cognitive abilities.
- Physical health problems: Drug use at a young age can contribute to developing adult health problems such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
- Low self-esteem: Teens with substance use disorders may experience feelings of low self-worth and diminished self-esteem.
What to Expect in Addiction Treatment Programs for Teens
Teens should feel safe and secure when entering a drug addiction treatment program. Teen rehab programs allow them to heal around others their own age and gender.
An addiction treatment center that treats teens should be nationally accredited, offer individualized treatment plans, and use evidence-based treatments that are based on science and research.
Gender-Separate Inpatient Rehab for Teens
Residential treatment programs for teens and youth throughout the United States allow teens to remain at the facility for the duration of treatment. The majority of these programs or treatment centers are either gender-separate or gender-exclusive.
These programs are either short-term (90 days or less) or long-term (up to several months or more).
Treatment services often included in residential rehab include medical detox, individual and group therapy, peer support groups, and medication management.
Teens and youths can also attend treatment in either an outpatient or intensive outpatient program (IOP), depending on the level of care that their situation calls for.
There are also partial hospitalization programs (PHP) that are high in treatment intensity but not considered residential because the participants return home each night.
If a teen needs medical detox or medication-assisted treatment (MAT) while still needing to attend their regular school, they can usually find these services at outpatient clinics.
Family therapy can be important in any addiction treatment program, but it can be especially useful in treating teens.
The family therapy sessions can benefit both the teen and their parents or other family members who join them.
Because many teens and young adults in residential or inpatient treatment are also still in middle school or high school, they must continue their academics and not fall behind.
Teen residential rehab centers typically offer a means for participants to continue their education while in addiction treatment.
Exercise and Recreational Activities
Teens and young adults tend to have a lot of natural energy and need to stay active, even while in addiction treatment.
Physical activities can also benefit a teen’s mental health, self-esteem, and sense of self-worth.
Teen Peer Support Groups
It is important that teens are around others their own age during addiction treatment, as being around adults at this time could prove uncomfortable and even dangerous in rare circumstances.
Peer support groups also provide an environment where teens can share their experiences with others and build a community and support network with accountability.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Teens
People of all ages and genders commonly have co-occurring mental health disorders and substance use disorders.
Common co-occurring mental health and behavioral health disorders in teens include:
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Co-occurring disorder treatment involves getting to the root of a person’s addiction. Implementing mental health treatment alongside addiction treatment helps ensure a teen learns to manage mental health and substance abuse issues.
Aftercare and Relapse Prevention for Teens
It is very important that teens and youths receive proper aftercare support and relapse prevention training so as not to have to return to treatment in adulthood.
Aftercare usually involves continued individual therapy in an outpatient setting and services like case management and access to peer support groups.
How to Work Through Substance Use Issues With Teens
Talking to a teen about substance use can be uncomfortable, especially if the teen has behaved aggressively or violently in the past, but it is necessary at times.
In fact, if you have a family history of substance abuse and think your child may be at an increased risk, it may help to have frequent talks with them about substance abuse as a preventative measure.
Tips for talking to a teen or young adult about substance abuse:
- Make your household rules and boundaries for substance use known and clear.
- Ask the teen questions and try to understand the underlying reasons behind their substance use.
- Avoid scolding or lecturing your teen.
- Be open with your teen about your own drug and alcohol use.
- Provide support and encouragement in areas where your teen is doing really well.
- Discuss with your teen ways they can resist peer pressure and alternatives for coping with stress other than substance abuse.
As a parent, you may have the final say in whether your child attends a drug and alcohol rehab program. Still, it is usually best for a teen to go willingly into treatment.
Unfortunately, in some cases, taking action to persuade your teen may become necessary, such as revoking privileges.
Benefits of Addiction Treatment for Teens
The benefits of addiction treatment for teens are numerous and can help them lead healthier and more productive lives.
Some of the benefits of substance abuse treatment for teens include:
- Improved mental and physical health: Addiction treatment can help teens and young adults overcome substance abuse, leading to better mental and physical well-being.
- Enhanced academic performance: By addressing addiction issues, young people can regain focus, improve their grades, and increase their chances of academic success.
- Reduced risk of legal issues: Overcoming addiction can decrease the likelihood of involvement in drug-related criminal activities, leading to a more stable and law-abiding life.
- Increased self-esteem: Overcoming addiction can boost self-confidence and self-worth, allowing young people to take control of their lives and make positive changes.
- Development of healthy coping strategies: Addiction treatment teaches young adults how to manage stress, deal with emotions, and cope with challenges in a healthier way.
- Strengthened relationships: Treatment can help mend damaged relationships with family and friends, building a stronger support network for long-term recovery.
Overall, professional addiction treatment can help teens get back on the right track and ensure that they have healthier and more fulfilling lives into adulthood.
Cost of Teen Rehab Programs
Drug and alcohol rehab can be affordable, and with certain insurance providers, it may even be completely covered at no cost to you.
The benefits of addiction treatment for teens and youth far outweigh any potential costs and could even save the person money in the long run if they can stay sober.
Do Teens Have Rehab Insurance Coverage?
Any teenager or youth may be covered under their parent’s health insurance if their parent or guardian has health insurance.
Most treatment facilities accept private insurance, and many of them accept state-funded insurance plans like Medicaid or Medicare as well.
People who are caregivers to children under the age of 18 automatically qualify for Medicaid in many states, and children would be covered under these insurance plans as well.
Payment Plans at Teen Rehab Centers
People always have the option to pay without insurance and through their own private funding, and payment plans are often available to make this option more practical and affordable.
Many drug and alcohol rehab programs also offer sliding fee scales and allow people to only pay what they can afford based on their income level.
Most recovery centers are willing to work with you to get you or your loved one into treatment and address any financial barriers that may be in place.
Barriers to Addiction Treatment for Teenagers
Families may have difficulty seeking addiction treatment for someone in the family who is dealing with a substance abuse issue, especially when that person is young.
Some of the barriers that prevent teens from seeking addiction treatment include:
- Financial constraints: The costs associated with addiction treatment can be a significant barrier for many families, especially those with lower socio-economic status.
- Transportation issues: Limited access to reliable transportation can make it difficult for teens to attend regular treatment sessions.
- Parental involvement: Lack of parental awareness, support, or supervision can hinder teens from seeking and engaging in addiction treatment.
- Mistrust: Some teens may hesitate to seek help due to mistrust of the healthcare system or fear of negative consequences.
- Stigma and social judgment: Many teens fear being judged or stigmatized by their peers and community for seeking help for addiction.
- Lack of awareness: Adolescents may not be fully aware of the available treatment options or recognize their substance use as problematic.
Many of these barriers can be broken by simply talking to the teen in question and taking an active role or involvement in the substance abuse or mental health issues they are facing.
Resources for Teens and Youth Seeking Addiction Treatment
The following are resources for both teenagers and their parents or guardians as they seek help for an addiction or mental health issue.
Resources for teens and youths seeking addiction treatment include:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): This website provides a crisis hotline, a grant finder tool, and a treatment center locator that allows people to search by city or state.
- 988 Suicide Crisis and Lifeline: This 24/7 free and private suicide and crisis hotline is operated and sponsored by SAMHSA. It provides aid and resources to people of all ages who are experiencing emotional distress or suicidal thoughts.
- Love is Respect: This organization is a resource for teens and young adults to help them understand healthy relationships and how to maintain personal safety and avoid domestic violence.
- The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: This organization provides various substance abuse resources and a child and adolescent psychiatrist directory and search tool.
- Youth Engaged 4 Change: Here, teens can find resources on topics like mental health and relationships, volunteering, and internship opportunities.
You likely also have additional resources available locally, and you can check with a medical professional or healthcare provider you trust for a list of these resources.
Find Help for Teens With Addiction
If you are the parent or guardian of a teen or know a teen who you suspect may have an alcohol or drug addiction, seek professional help immediately. Early intervention can make all the difference in helping a teen gain sobriety.
If you are a teen who is misusing or abusing drugs, you are not alone: help is available to you, regardless of your situation at home.
Visit the SAMHSA website to find drug rehab centers near you, or call their 24/7 hotline for additional support and resources.
The help your teen needs is often just a phone call away, find a treatment center today.