22 Apr Drugs, Alcohol & Addiction
Why do we do it?
Drugs and Alcohol: Understanding Teen Needs & How To Help in a Healthy Way.
What is Addiction?
One of the hardest topics to discuss is teen drug and alcohol addiction. Among all substances, the most commonly used ones by teenagers are alcohol, marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter medications. Many teachers and parents report that youth substance abuse is a tough subject to bring up; however, if not resolved, it can have major adverse effects on students including behavioral problems and poor academic performance. Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused substance by teens. Research has shown that teens are more inclined to binge drink, with approximately 20 percent of 12th graders admitting to binge drinking in 2014. Binge drinking is extremely worrisome because it increases the risk of addiction in people of any age, with the teenage brain being more susceptible to addiction.
Research has shown that teens are more inclined to binge drink, with approximately 20 percent of 12th graders admitting to binge drinking in 2014.
In addition to alcohol, marijuana use is also a problem among teenagers. Regular marijuana users report most often started during their adolescence years. Although marijuana use is controversial with many reporting that it is not dangerous, starting at an early age can change the brain and stunt cognitive abilities.
Perhaps one of the scarier drug addictions that is on the rise is opioid (or prescription painkiller) abuse. Dr. Drew Pinsky, commonly known as Dr. Drew, is a world-renowned psychiatrist who works with many younger patients with opioid addiction issues. Prescription pill drug abuse occurs when the teenager takes a drug for reasons other than for a therapeutic purpose primarily to get high, stay up all night, or get focused and do homework. All of these forms are illegal and are labeled as drug abuse. Examples of Prescription medication that are commonly abused include:
- Narcotic painkillers like Oxycontin
- Benzodiazepines (hypnotic and sleep medication that include Xanax) which produce pleasurable effects that teens may seek out
- Psychostimulants that include Adderall, prescribed mainly for people with ADD. However, many teenagers use these drugs as an advantage to focus and do better on tests and study more efficiently, which can become a serious problem because the addictive potential is high.
With opioid-related deaths on the rise, prescription painkiller abuse is more serious than even alcohol addition. Parents need to pay attention to their medicine cabinets and check to see that their kids are not abusing these potentially dangerous drugs. As Dr. Drew has reiterated many times during lectures and conferences around the world, he is worried about opioid addiction, stating “I’m tired of putting young people in the ground…my patients die because of prescription drugs all the time.”
With opioid-related deaths on the rise, prescription painkiller abuse is more serious than even alcohol addition.
Some common signs of teens drug abuse
What are some common signs to watch out for if you think a teen may be abusing drugs and/or alcohol? Look for the following signs:
- Poor academic performance and falling grades
- Bloodshot eyes
- No interest in pursuing passions, hobbies and activities
- Poor hygiene and diminished appearance
- Hysterical laughter for no reason
- Frequent hunger or “munchies”
- Avoiding eye contact
- Smell of smoke on breath or clones
- Secretive behavior
- Unusual tiredness and depressed behavior
- Acting withdrawn and/or hostile with family and friends
- Change in friends and peer group
- Trouble with the law
- Change sleeping habits
If you see any of these signs in teens, please intervene early before it is too late!
Why Do Teens Abuse Drugs and Alcohol?
According to Dr. Drew, addiction is a specific disorder, albeit disease, a genetic disorder with a biological basis. Teen brains are especially malleable at an age where the brain can be influenced by biological, emotional, and social processes. This is around the time that the prefrontal cortex starts to make judgments, and there is an increased likelihood of making bad choices.
So, what are some of the reasons that teens would want to abuse drugs and alcohol?
1. Novelty-seeking Behavior: This is an age when teens are curious about trying new things and are on the lookout for the newest, coolest trend. While there are plenty of positive activities that can be pursued, drugs get mixed in during this novelty-seeking time.
2. Regulating Emotion: Social anxiety is a common problem among adolescents and teenagers as they try to navigate through a tricky social life. One way to relieve the stress is through drug and alcohol use. It is very common to see teenagers medicating an emotion like social anxiety. This underlying issues can be addressed by seeing a mental health professional.
3. Fitting In: Some kids become druggies because they can’t figure out another way to fit in. By joining a drug clique, kids can immediately fit into a group.
4. Attention: Some kids use drugs for all the attention it gets them. If he were the perfect child, would he get anywhere near the same amount of attention from you? Sometimes, if kids don’t meet their own expectations, they feel like a failure and in their discouragement, it becomes easy to turn to drug use where he feels he can be successful.
5. Boredom: Some kids are just plain bored. Playing with criminal behavior can sound exciting. This can be resolved by getting them involved with activities that encourage and promote healthy and positive behavior.
6. Peer Pressure: Some kids think that using drugs is normal. Furthermore, with social media and current culture glorifying the drug culture, it is tempting to take a pill in order to act “cool.”
Teen brains are especially malleable at an age where the brain can be influenced by biological, emotional, and social processes.
How to Help:
What Can Parents do to help?
– 65% of teens who abuse prescription pain relievers get them from friends and relatives. Create a safe environment- Keep pain meds locked away, know what is in your medicine cabinet, see what is unused and expired and dispose of it carefully. Lock up the medication in some fashion.
– Spend time with your teens and monitor their activities. Educate teens about the dangers of using prescription medication. Research shows that teens who learned about risks of drugs from parents are 50% less likely to abuse drugs.
– If you need help, get help. School is an asset; if you get messages from the school about your child’s activities with substances, they are trying to help.Work with schools to figure out the best solution for your teen.
What do you do if you suspect your teen is using drugs?
Getting teens to talk is important to determine if this was a one-time thing or if it’s becoming a re-occurring problem. If a teen admits to taking drugs, do not overreact because it can prevent a teen from opening up about their experience and future drug use.
If a teen denies drug use, parents should reassure their child they they are concerned and want to help. However, if they are still denying substance use, then a home drug test or reaching out to professional help can uncover the underlying problem. Professionals including therapists, pediatricians, and addiction specialists can help diagnose a teen drug problem, if necessary.
What Can Teachers do to help?
There are several things that teachers can do to help their students with substance abuse or addiction problems.
– Encourage schools and principals to have drug information sessions and assemblies so that students can hear the effects of drug abuse. Having an open dialogue and communication regarding addiction is crucial.
Additionally, The Center for Addiction and Mental Health suggests the following actions teachers can take to help their students:
• Set clear classroom boundaries with clear rules and consequences
• Encourage a constructive use of time
• Foster an environment that encourages a commitment to learning
• Encourage reading for pleasure
• Praise student’s achievements and accomplishments
• Acknowledge successes and abilities
• Model a sense of optimism and a positive view of learning
• Keep the channels of communication open
• Be a good listener
• Keep an open mind
• Ask students for opinions
• Encourage participation in extra curricular activities