Drug and alcohol addiction is devastating to even the most sophisticated and mature of adults but it is equally – if not more – ruinous for teens and young adults.
The human brain is not fully developed until age 30, which means that alcohol and drug addiction affects young people differently than it does adults and requires a different treatment approach.
Learn About Early Drinking
According to the National Institutes of Health, there are several factors that may contribute to a higher likelihood of alcohol and drug use in children and teenagers, including the following:
- Family history of alcoholism
- Antisocial behavior in childhood
- Drug use
These factors all increase the likelihood of an early drinker developing a dependence on alcohol. In addition, almost half of all children who begin drinking before age 14 develop alcohol dependence. Those who start drinking under the age of 14 are also significantly more likely to develop alcoholism within the first 10 years of beginning alcohol use.
Moreover, evidence shows that growing brains are more susceptible to the damage of repeated exposure to alcohol, affecting brain processes permanently.
Preventing Early Alcoholism
One of the primary factors that may contribute to teen alcoholism is the biological need for teenagers to take risks as they leave childhood behind and grow into adulthood.
Adults can help focus this need to take risks on healthy behavior such as competitive sports, challenging extra-curricular activities, learning new skills or sports and trying controlled-risk activities such as rock climbing or rollerblading. Often teenagers who do not have a healthy direction in which to focus their risk-taking behaviors use alcohol and drugs to fill that need.
Learn About Teen Substance Abuse
One fact that many adults do not realize is that teenagers are more likely to become addicted to multiple substances at the same time, while adults tend to be addicted to one primary substance.
Signs that a teen is involved in substance abuse include the following:
- Sudden changes in school performance
- Changes in interactions with family and friends
- New or different peer relationships
- Involvement with the judicial system
Preventing Early Substance Abuse
Adults should be aware that the pressures and types of potential substance abuse for teens are much more intense and different than they were even a decade ago. Children and teenagers need specific guidance, information and warnings about specific types of drugs and other addictive substances.
For example, a 2005 survey showed that almost a quarter of all U.S. teenagers take prescription drugs to get high but fewer teens are using LSD and ecstasy than before.
Along with education about different types of drugs and their consequences, adults should provide consistent limits and structure for their children and teens.
Finding Teen Alcohol and Drug Treatment
Adults who are dealing with a teen addicted to drugs or alcohol must understand that neither the teen nor the adult can help the teen recover from addiction alone. Experts with professional experience, education and training are the best chance for a teen to achieve prolonged or permanent recovery.
The treatment process includes a detoxification process in which the body processes the absence of the drugs or alcohol on which it is dependent. Again, this process requires professional help and treatment.
Once the teen is sober, a treatment program includes medical supervision, education and therapeutic support, information and counseling. Most teens require at least 30 days of in-home treatment, often many more.
While insurance often dictates the form and location of teen alcohol and drug treatment, a therapeutic community (called TC) in which the recovering teen lives with other recovering addicts and professional counselors is one of the most effective approaches. When living in a rehabilitation program, the teenager learns to identify what drove him or her to drugs or alcohol in the first place, how to handle ongoing cravings, and learn how to look at life and manage it with a new skill set that does not include the use of alcohol or drugs.
After intense treatment, many teens live in a halfway house that helps the teen learn how to live independently without drugs or alcohol and complete school or obtain employment.
During this time and even after a teen has ‘graduated’ from a halfway home, regular outpatient therapy is a necessity to continue dealing with anxiety, depression and other likely relapse triggers. Self-help or addiction recovery groups are also useful.
While no adult can make a teenager realize that they need help, providing them with the opportunity for addiction recovery and continued counseling can change their life dramatically.