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Overview of Teen & Young Adult Addiction Guide

When we think about addiction, often what comes to mind is the stereotypical addict that’s portrayed in the media. Specifically, we think about a person who’s become a willing criminal, who likely has contracted a blood-borne illness from prior drug use, who’s lost his or her job and home and vehicle, and who has either damaged or destroyed virtually all of his or her important relationships. This is someone who puts alcohol or drugs above all else, including his or her own mental, emotional, and physical needs. Although there are some addicts who fit this description, it’s unfair — not to mention misleadingly inaccurate — to assume all addicts are homeless, disease-ridden criminals.

15% Of 8th graders have used marijuana
7.6% Of teens use Adderall
>5% Of 12th graders have used cocaine

In reality, addiction affects the entire range of the demographic spectrum. Men and women of all ages and from all walks of life have fallen and continue to fall prey to alcohol and drug addiction. And while we all have a mental image of what behavioral traits and characteristics make up an addiction, this disease actually affects everyone in some very different ways. For instance, some people experience mostly physical or physiological symptoms of addiction — loss of physical health, significant change in weight, decrease in the ability of the immune system to protect from illness, and so on — while others experience more behavioral and psychological effects than the physical.

There’s also a common assumption that a person can only be an addict if he or she is an adult. It may be very uncommon for subadults to become fully addicted to mind-altering substances, there are many teens to have lost control of their alcohol and drug abuse, resulting in their needing addiction treatment of some kind. Therefore, we turn our attention to alcohol and drug addiction among teens and adolescents, assess the rates at which teens are becoming addicted, determine which substances pose the greatest threat to subadult individuals, discuss why teens turn to alcohol and drug abuse in the first place, and identify ways of addressing teenage substance abuse.

What Substances are the Greatest Threat to Teens?

It wouldn’t be very surprising for the most-abused substance among adolescents and teens to be alcohol. After all, it’s legal to buy and consume, making it the most common and available mind-altering substance by a significant margin — unless you include tobacco products, of course. Anyone over the age of 21 can purchase alcohol, but there’s nothing in the laws that forbid those who are of legal drinking age from keeping alcohol in a house where teens and others who are underage are living. This means there’s a lot of subadults — adolescents and teens who are under the legal drinking age — who have ready access to alcohol, accounting for the frequency with which teens abuse alcohol.

Most Commonly Abused Substances Among Teens

However, alcohol is the second-most abused by teens and adolescents, following marijuana by a considerable margin. In fact, many teens have reported in surveys that they can obtain marijuana with very minimal effort and many of them have ready access to the drug at all time. Beyond marijuana and alcohol, there are other substances often available. Prescription drugs are one of the most-abused drugs for adolescents who can often find controlled substances in the medicine cabinets of their own homes. Additionally, surveys show that most teens and adolescents can obtain marijuana with little to no difficulty. Somewhat surprisingly, another type of drug that’s frequently abused by teens is the class of drugs called stimulants, especially amphetamines and pharmaceutical stimulants.

Are Teens and Adolescents at High Risk of Addiction?

It’s not easy to be a teen. In our society, being a teenager is considered to be a time of great inner turmoil. Not yet an adult but no longer a child, today’s teen experiences an inner battle between wanting to be fully independence and yet still having to rely on the parents for care. Moreover, there’s emotional unrest as the body’s chemistry, particularly with regard to hormones, change dramatically, causing the trademark mood swings and a tendency to buck at authority. In fact, rebellion is a major theme that many adolescents play with over the course of their teenage years.

"At least one in three adolescents experiment with drugs by the time they complete the eighth grade."

When you consider that rates of alcohol and drug abuse in the U.S. are higher today than they’ve ever been, it’s little surprise that there are so many teens abusing alcohol and drugs. According to the National Survey of Adolescents, at least one in three adolescents experiment with drugs by the time they complete the eighth grade; meanwhile, no less than two in five adolescents have participating in binge-drinking behavior by the same point in time. By the time these teens reach and graduate from high school, the statistics are significantly more concerning. For instance, more than three-quarters of all high school students admit to having used some type of addictive substance at least once. Meanwhile, about half of all high school students use an addictive substance regularly and approximately 14 percent of all high school teens meet the diagnostic criteria for addiction.

Why Substance Abuse is Such a Problem Among Teens

Part of the problem is that with rates of substance abuse reaching such a high on a national scale, the number of teens who consider substance abuse to be unacceptable behavior has steadily declined. As substance abuse becomes more widespread, teens are more and more seeing it as normal behavior and, therefore, are becoming more inclined to experiment with recreational substance abuse.

Warning Signs That A Teen Is Abusing Substances

  • Routinely skipping class
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Severe paranoia
  • Loss of/excessive appetite
  • Lower marks in school
  • Aggressive mood swings
  • Stealing money
  • Red/glassy eyes

Additionally, there are many potential reasons why a teen might turn to alcohol or drug abuse. Perhaps the most obvious and most common is for social reasons; many teens will begin abusing alcohol and drugs as a way to fit in with their peers. In this way, substance abuse is much like a snowball effect, spreading among social groups of teens. Substance abuse is also sometimes used as a social lubricant and for social anxiety, helping them to socialize more effectively. However, substance abuse among teens can also originate as a form of rebellion as well, or merely due to curiosity. If a teen has a hard home life, he or she may turn to substance abuse as a means of alleviating to feelings. In short, teens turn to substance abuse for many of the same reasons that adults do, but with more of an emphasis on the social.

Are Teens and Adolescents at High Risk of Addiction?

The best way to combat an addiction, whether the person is a teen or an adult, is to find an addiction treatment program. In fact, there are addiction treatment programs that are designed specifically for adolescents and teens.

"No less than 90 percent of all adult addicts in the U.S. started smoking, drinking, and/or using drugs under the age of 18."

Since young adults are still developing psychologically and have a number of age-specific problems — emphasis on self-esteem, confidence, identity, and independence — addiction treatment programs for youths tend to incorporate those considerations into the curricula of these programs. There’s also been a growing interest in experiential substance abuse treatment programs for adolescents and teens; in particular, wilderness and adventure therapies have proven to be popular choices for teens because they help them to develop their independence and self-sufficiency while having ample time to figure out how to meet their mental and emotional needs.

  • A common misconception about teenage substance abuse treatment is that they must have a drug problem to need a program. However, even teens who are not yet fully addicted can benefit greatly from substance abuse program for teens.
  • Due to their young age, adolescent and teenage substance abuse needs to be identified as soon as possible, otherwise it could have irreparable consequences on their mental and emotional development.
  • In 2008, there were close to 200 teens getting referrals to substance abuse treatment programs each day.
  • According to statistics, the substance for which adolescents and teens receive treatment the most often is marijuana, followed distantly by alcohol and prescription drugs. Despite the current heroin epidemic, it’s one of the drugs for which teen addicts receive treatment the least.
  • At any given point in the year, at least 40 percent of high school seniors will have abused alcohol over the course of the previous month.