Substance abuse is when an individual misuses drugs or alcohol. Teens and young adults may experiment with substances and develop an addiction. Since substances can have a negative impact on the mental, emotional, and physical health of an individual, especially as they go through changes in adolescence, it’s crucial to intervene with substance use issues early.
Westwind Recovery® provides addiction treatment and resources to help individuals who struggle with substance use.
What Is Adolescent Substance Abuse?
Adolescent substance abuse refers to individuals between the ages of 12 and 17 misusing drugs or alcohol. Since adolescence is a very important developmental period physically, emotionally, and mentally, substance use during this time is especially dangerous for a young individual. Not only can substance abuse during adolescence have a negative impact on development, but it can also hinder a teen’s ability to function well socially and academically.
Substance abuse in adolescence can take many forms, including the use of illegal drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, or heroin. When given access, teens may abuse prescription medications, such as opioids and benzodiazepines. Among adolescents, alcohol is the most commonly abused substance.
Reasons for Substance Abuse in Adolescence
Young adults and teens may choose to use drugs and alcohol for a variety of reasons during adolescence. In order to treat substance abuse, therapists and clinicians try to address the root cause of the addiction. Finding the reason adolescents abuse substances and resolving any issues there can help achieve long-term recovery.
Some teens try drugs or alcohol out of curiosity because they want to experiment. Peer pressure is another reason teens may use drugs or alcohol. In order to fit in socially with their peers, they may feel encouraged. Access to substances is a common motivator.
Genetics and mental health are also factors of adolescent substance abuse. If there’s a history of substance use disorder in the family, this can increase the risk of a child developing a problem. Substance use in the family can also encourage a teen to try drugs or alcohol. Mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD from trauma also may lead to substance abuse in adolescence. In order to cope with symptoms of stress or emotional pain, teens may turn to substances.
Signs and Symptoms of Adolescent Substance Use
Depending on the type of substance an adolescent is using, the signs and symptoms may differ. If you notice any behavioral changes in your teen or young adult it’s a good idea to seek medical advice. Some signs you can look for include:
- Withdrawing from relationships
- Physical changes (bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, weight loss)
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Neglecting responsibilities
- Performing poorly at school
- Taking unnecessary risks
- Getting into trouble with the law
How Does Substance Abuse Affect Adolescents?
Adolescent substance abuse can lead to a range of negative consequences, from poor academic performance to serious health problems. Early intervention and treatment are key to helping teens and young adults overcome substance abuse and prevent long-term effects.
During adolescence, the brain is still developing in certain areas and substance use can negatively affect development by damaging areas of the brain, changing its structure, or just by stalling its growth. Alcohol and drug use impairs the pre-frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that’s responsible for decision-making. Damage to the pre-frontal cortex may lead to impulsivity and risky behavior.
Impairing this part of the brain also may have negative consequences on brain functioning. With reduced cognitive abilities, a teen may find it harder to learn and process information. This causes academic problems and might affect future opportunities that they have for college or their career.
Substance use also alters the brain’s chemistry and can make an individual more susceptible to developing an addiction. Since substances create a sense of euphoria when first taken, the brain feels this action is rewarded which may increase the desire to use again. A teen who uses substances is also at a higher risk of developing mental health problems.
Substance abuse during adolescence can cause strain on relationships the same way addiction does for adults. Using drugs and alcohol may create conflict between parents and children, which can unfortunately make a child feel isolated and lead to more substance use. Teenagers who abuse drugs also may find it difficult to maintain relationships with friends or romantic partnerships.
The conflict in relationships may stem from behavioral changes such as impulsivity, or irritability caused by drug use. But teens may also withdraw from their relationships and lack the motivation to participate in social activities with friends.
Unfortunately, substance abuse can turn relationships to be abusive. An adolescent using drugs and alcohol may have impaired judgment and become aggressive when under the influence. This deteriorates close relationships.
Substance use during adolescence is particularly dangerous because of the long-term effects on an individual’s physical and mental health. Prolonged substance abuse may lead to physical health problems, including liver disease, heart disease, lung disease, and a weakened immune system which makes a teen more susceptible to any illness. Substance use can also put a teen at higher risk of developing a mental illness which can impact the rest of their life.
Relationship issues in adolescence stemming from drug or alcohol use may cause permanent damage and hinder a person’s ability to form and maintain connections throughout their life. This may also cause problems with employment and other aspects of daily life. Developing social skills is important for finding success throughout life.
Lastly, when an individual starts using drugs or alcohol early in their life, they’re more likely to develop an addiction to substances. This is why early intervention is so important for helping young adults with substance use problems.
Treatment For Substance Abuse in Adolescents
There are several treatment options for teens and young adults who have substance abuse issues. If their substance abuse has evolved into addiction, it may be recommended that they complete detox before seeking other treatment. If you or a loved one has a substance use problem, seek professional help. Your physician can recommend the best treatment option for you.
Often individuals with substance use problems attend a facility for treatment in either a residential or outpatient program. Both include behavioral therapies and group therapy to help learn coping strategies and address the root cause of substance abuse. Treatments may include:
Family therapy involves the parents and siblings of an individual struggling with substance use. During a family therapy session, a therapist guides a discussion to identify any issues that may contribute to substance abuse. Family members learn about addiction and how they can help during the recovery process.
Group therapy creates a supportive environment for peers. During sessions, individuals share their experiences, participate in activities, and work on improving coping strategies. Teens and young adults in group therapy may take part in traditional or holistic treatments. It’s also a good environment to practice skills such as communication and interpersonal skills that may help rebuild their social life outside of the program.
Individual therapy is a one-on-one session with a therapist. The therapist may use behavioral therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy. Both these treatments seek to resolve the core issues of substance abuse and help replace negative thoughts and behaviors with positive ones that prevent relapse. Individual therapy helps someone understand their addiction and address any underlying problems.
Experiential therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on experience, emotions, and behaviors. Performing different activities and getting exercise can be very beneficial for an individual’s mental and physical health, which is what makes it an effective addiction treatment option. Some examples of experiential therapy are:
Addiction Treatment at Westwind Recovery®
At Westwind Recovery® in Los Angeles, California, we offer affordable and accessible addiction treatment options to young adults. If you or a loved one struggles with substance use, our team provides a customized approach to help you reach your recovery goals. Using an integrated approach with many modalities, we’re able to find the treatment that resonates with our clients.
When you come to Westwind for addiction treatment, you can continue many of your activities in your daily routine, such as work or school. We have several outpatient programs, including partial hospitalization, outpatient treatment, and intensive outpatient care. If you or a loved one needs 24/7 support, we have a sober living program open to anyone who completes a California inpatient treatment program. Sober living is a community that helps develop lifestyle habits in a substance-free environment and helps prevent relapse. Call today to start your recovery from drug or alcohol addiction and learn more about our outpatient programs!
Dr. Deena is the Chief Clinical Officer of Westwind Recovery®, an award-winning outpatient treatment center in Los Angeles where she oversees the clinical and administrative program and treatment methods. Dr. Deena is a doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker since 1993. LCSW #20628. Originally from the East Coast, Dr. Deena has worked running treatment centers, worked as a therapist in psychiatric hospitals as well as school settings and currently has a thriving private practice in the LA area. Dr. Deena has appeared regularly on the Dr. Phil Show as an expert since 2003. She has also been featured on many other TV shows, podcasts and has contributed to written publications as well as podcasts.