The years of adolescence and young adulthood are marked with important milestones and major transitions. The avenues for educational and social growth grow exponentially during this life period and there are tremendous opportunities to evolve within those avenues. While there are those growth opportunities, there are also increased pressures and in order to cope with those pressures teenagers may turn to drugs and alcohol as an outlet to relieve those added pressures. Given the right conditions, sets and setting, what can start out as recreational and occasional use can turn into full-blown addiction and the social and legal consequences that can come with addiction.
Teenage substance abuse is a significant health concern in the United States. According to a SAMHSA report, there were an estimated 25.1 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in 2011. One-quarter of the 12-17 age bracket reported drinking alcohol while one-fifth of that demographic have reported use of illicit drugs. There can be a myriad of factors that can contribute to drug use and addiction in teenagers including peer pressure, family history of substance abuse, and family history of trauma as examples. Being able to identify the warning signs that substance abuse addiction is present in teenagers is essential in finding the best intervention possible.
Signs of Teenage Addiction
Changes in Appetite or Sleep Patterns
This significant sign of teenage addiction can be characterized by a marked increase or decrease in either appetite, sleep patterns or both. These effects may vary depending upon the drug being abused and the length of time the drug has been abused.
Deterioration of Physical Appearance
The deterioration of one’s physical appearance is a telltale sign of addiction in teenagers because they are very concerned about the way they look to peers and friends and may be very specific about clothing, makeup, and overall hygiene. Individuals abusing substances shift their attention on the obtaining and use of drugs and/or alcohol and have a decreased interest on their physical appearance.
Withdrawal from Activities
If teenagers stop showing interest in things they found pleasurable, that also can be a warning sign of substance abuse in teenagers. They may start missing school or participate less in sporting events or other social activities. They may also stop attending family functions or gatherings such as church because their drug use has become more important, or they may be embarrassed and try to hide their use from others.
Changes in Friends or Locations
Teens who are using drugs and alcohol may start hanging out with a different crowd of friends. You may notice where they hang out may change as well. They may suddenly think their old friends are no longer “cool.” Teens who are abusing and become addicted to drugs and alcohol may break curfew or become truant from school and may run into legal problems.
Changes in Personality
The mood swings associated with substance abuse and addiction in teenagers are different in comparison with typical teenage attitudes. Depending on the substance being abused, there may be noticeable and marked hyperactivity or extreme happiness followed by a “crash” where the mood becomes just the opposite. The individual may appear very lethargic or more irritable than usual. Thinking and behaviors may also become irrational and unpredictable.
If any of these changes occur it will be time to starting talking to someone and especially the teenager. Approaching them in a non-confrontational, non-threatening manner is ideal. The course of the conversation is to get them to talk and not to be shut down. If drug use is suspected, even if just a little – start talking. If the teen does have a substance abuse issue, be proactive and seek help.