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Teen Addiction

  Teen handing another teen money in exchange for drugs with a table full of drugs in front of them

What Is Drug Addiction?

Addiction is a disease of brain motivation, reward and memory. Addiction affects a person’s impulses, conditioning them to engage in and repeat certain destructive behaviors despite known negative health, financial, emotional and social effects. The good news is although the illness is chronic it can be treated.

There are five main characteristics of addiction:

  • An inability to abstain from a behavior consistently
  • Behavioral control impairment
  • Experiencing intense cravings for rewards
  • Little or no recognition for the person’s own problem
  • Dysfunctional emotional responses

There are two main kinds of addiction — substance addiction and process addiction. Teens who are struggling with addiction compulsively use substances such as alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs to fulfill their cravings for a reward. Process addicts repeatedly engage in certain behaviors, such as gambling or shopping, to satisfy these reward cravings.

Addiction is also a physical and psychological condition. While many drugs chemically alter the brain’s reward system, addiction is also characterized by intense cravings and impaired behavioral control that often cause teens in recovery to relapse.

Examples of substance addictions, also called substance use disorders, are:

Addiction is not just an adult disease. In 2015, 35.3% and 23.6% of 12th graders said they had used alcohol and illicit drugs, respectively, in the last month. Teen drug abuse is not uncommon, and research shows adolescent drug use leads to addiction. Research proves teenagers who use drugs or alcohol before the age of 17 are up to 5.2 times more likely to develop future substance abuse and addiction problems than those who didn’t.

Substance Abuse vs. Addiction

Although “substance abuse” and “addiction” are frequently used interchangeably, they are not the same. Substance abuse often leads to addiction, and a person’s addiction can involve substance abuse, but you don’t have to be addicted to abuse a substance. The main difference has to do with control and negative outcomes.

Substance abuse is the use of illicit substances or prescriptions non-medically and in excess. In these cases, substance abuse happens repeatedly and voluntarily. In contrast, teens addicted to drugs or alcohol have a compulsory need to abuse these substances — they cannot control their substance abuse, even though they are aware it leads to significant negative outcomes.

What Causes Addiction?

teen snorting cocaine

Scientists are still searching for the precise cause of addiction. However, it is understood there are several factors that increase a person’s likelihood of developing an addiction. These factors are both environmental and genetic.

Some people have a genetic predisposition to developing an addiction, such as if they have a family history of addiction and substance use disorders. In some cases, a mental illness such as depression or an anxiety disorder can trigger addiction or a substance use disorder to manifest. If your child has both an addiction and a mental health disorder at the same time, they have what are called co-occurring disorders.

Environmentally, some teenagers may also be more likely than others to become addicted to a substances if they are around people who use them. Teens are particularly impressionable and often begin abusing substances after watching a friend, parent or idol do it. The age when a person first abuses substances also contributes to a possible future addiction. Adolescents are 2–5 times more likely to develop an addiction later in life if they began using drugs or alcohol before the age of 17.

Signs of Addiction

teen smoking cannabis pipe

Teen addiction is a psychological condition and causes many changes in behavior. If you notice your teen exhibiting one or more physical and psychological symptoms, they may have an alcohol or drug addiction.

Some physical signs of addiction include:

  • Unusual smells on the clothes or breath
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Sudden weight changes
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating
  • A disheveled physical appearance, including personal hygiene, grooming and choice of clothing
  • Seizures in children with no history of epilepsy
  • Bruises or injuries your teen cannot/refuses to explain
  • Impaired coordination
  • Needle marks on the arms near the veins
  • Slurred speech
  • Shakes

Psychological signs of addiction include:

  • Sudden mood changes, including angry outbursts or irritability
  • Sudden change in personality or attitude
  • Inability to focus or symptoms of lethargy
  • Unusual agitation or hyperactivity
  • Paranoia

Warning Signs

teens smoking cigarette

As a parent, you may notice some changes in your teen’s behavior like a sudden drop in grades or changing relationships. While these are typical experiences during the teenage years, they may also be warning signs that your child has a drug or alcohol addiction.

Some behavior changes that may be a sign of addiction include:

  • Heavy use of perfume or cologne used to disguise the scent of drugs
  • Use of eyedrops to conceal bloodshot eyes
  • Problems in school, including dropping grades, skipping classes and complaints from supervisors and customers
  • Problems at work, including showing up late or missing shifts and complaints from supervisors and customers
  • Problems with relationships, including sudden changes in friends and partners
  • Missing money, valuables and/or prescription drugs
  • Withdrawn or secretive behaviors, including locking doors
  • Rebellious behavior, including a sudden clash with your family’s routine or values

Addiction Rehab

Addiction is a chronic illness, but it is treatable. Teen addiction treatment is also often called rehabilitation or rehab. Teen addiction rehab methods include inpatient rehab, intensive outpatient rehab and partial hospitalization.

Both programs go through the same steps of treatment:

  • Detoxification or detox, when the body removes itself of toxins
  • Evaluation, including an assessment to determine if the teen has any co-occurring disorders
  • Medication, which may aid symptoms of withdrawal or co-occurring mental disorders
  • Counseling, which helps strengthen skills acquired during rehab
  • Establishment of aftercare resources, such as 12-step programs

The first step is the hardest, but it could be the difference between teen addiction and recovery. Your teen can take back their life with the right treatment program. Contact us today and find out how we can help your child overcome addiction — together.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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