What Parents Should Know about Addiction
Raising healthy children in the 21st century presents a myriad of unique challenges to parents. A primary area of concern for parents is being alert to substance use disorder in regard to their children. Parents need to understand the prevalence of addiction, the signs of mind-altering substance use, and the particular risks increasing the possibility that a person will have a substance use disorder. Parents also need to have a clear understanding of how to approach the subject of drug use and addiction with their teens and children.
Prevalence of Substance Use Disorder and Addiction Among Adolescents
According to the Addiction Center, statistics on adolescent use of mind-altering substances have been relatively stable the past few years. It’s important to note that while teens that abuse drugs have a greater risk of developing an addiction, it is also common for adolescents to experiment, and not all become dependent.
Approximately 5% of adolescents self-report using some form of cocaine at least one time, and 4 to 5% of adolescents self-report using some type of prescription medication in a manner not directed by a physician during the past year. Because this data is self-reported, experts in the field of addiction treatment estimate that these numbers are likely lower than reality. They believe there is a significant cohort of teen substance users and even addicts who shield their use and addiction from others. Similarly, there likely is a notable number of parents who conceal their children’s use of or addiction to mind-altering substances.
About 16% of young people report drinking alcohol for the first time before the age of 13. According to the HHS, 30% of high school students self-report using alcohol during the past month, and 13% of high school students report binge drinking in the past month.
Adolescent fatal drug overdoses are a growing problem in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. The stats regarding fatal drug overdoses by teenagers help underscore the overall prevalence of addiction among adolescents across the country today.
In 2018, 4,633 teenagers fatally overdosed on drugs (including alcohol). The number of fatal overdoses can be broken down further by type of drug:
- Alcohol – 85
- Cocaine – 859
- Heroin – 3,177
- Benzodiazepines – 899
- Opioid pain relievers – 790
A co-occurring mental health condition and substance use disorder is a significant issue among teenagers at this juncture in time. Approximately 50% of adolescents with an addiction also have a co-occurring mental health issue, according to the NIDA. The commonly co-existing mental health conditions include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
In some instances, a young person turns to a mind-altering substance to self-medicate symptoms of what might be an undiagnosed mental health condition. A mental health issue might also arise or become more pronounced because of the use of some type of mind-altering substance.
Due to the prevalence of drug and alcohol use among teens and even pre-teens as well as the severe consequences for their health, it is important for you as a parent to recognize the signs of addiction. Should your child exhibit symptoms of substance use disorder, you want to be able to recognize them and get professional help before the drug or alcohol use becomes a full-blown addiction.
Signs of Drug Addiction
Signs that an adolescent may be addicted to drugs vary from one young person to another. However, there are some commonplace signs of drug addiction. These signs of addiction can be placed in one of three categories: physical, psychological and behavioral.
When an adolescent is suffering from substance use disorder, they will likely exhibit multiple physical signs. An early physical sign of addiction is the deterioration of a young person’s physical appearance. Their grooming habits may get worse over time, which can alter their appearance.
A person’s eyes have been described in literature as the windows to the soul. While this is a nice sentiment, a young person’s eyes typically offer telltale signs of addiction. A young person’s eyes may be bloodshot, or the pupils may appear larger or smaller than normal.
Other physical signs associated with adolescent substance use disorder are noticeable changes in appetite. Appetite issues may also be associated with a sudden weight loss or weight gain.
Sleep patterns of a person with an addiction are likely to become disrupted. There is not one set sleep disturbance scenario associated with addiction. Rather, the attributes of the specific mind-altering substance used largely dictate the manner in which sleep patterns are disrupted. In most cases, the disruption in sleep patterns will become significant and noticeable to a parent.
As a substance use disorder becomes more pervasive or an addiction becomes more profound, additional physical symptoms including tremors and impaired coordination can occur. Slurred speech is another physical sign of intoxication, which doesn’t necessarily signify addiction.
Unusual odors may be exhibited, but these odors have nothing to do with deteriorating hygienic practices. Rather, they are associated with the interaction of certain types of drugs in a person’s system. These smells also can be detected when certain drugs are smoked. When someone uses methamphetamine for a more extended period of time, that individual will begin to have a chemical odor about them. Some describe the scent to be like ammonia or a similar cleaning product. Crack cocaine gives off a stench of chemicals and burning plastic when smoked. That scent may also arise from a user’s body to some degree.
Psychological and emotional signs of substance use disorder include sudden, unpredictable mood changes. These may include angry outbursts and irritability.
Other psychological and emotional signs of adolescent addiction include unexplained changes in personality or in attitude. A teen with an addiction issue may exhibit unusual agitation, hyperactivity or giddiness. More signs include a lack of motivation, lethargy or an appearance of being disconnected or “spaced out.” In some instances, a teenager with an addiction may appear anxious, fearful or even paranoid.
Finally, certain behaviors are indicative of an adolescent with substance use disorder. A prime behavioral sign is a teen who suddenly appears to engage in suspicious or secretive behavior. In addition, a teen with an addiction is likely to start having unexplained financial issues. An outgrowth of that situation can be excessive borrowing of money and even stealing, including stealing from family members.
An adolescent with substance use disorder is likely to become disinterested in activities and other things that used to be important to them. A teen with an addiction is also apt to make a sudden change in friends. A teenager in such a situation will end up connecting with fellow mind-altering substance users and individuals from whom the substance can be purchased.
An adolescent who uses drugs or alcohol will usually exhibit a drop in school or work performance as well as in attendance. A teen with addiction might begin to get into fights, have accidents and engage in illegal activities.
These symptoms may all start small and grow more severe over time. As a parent, it is important for you to recognize these signs early so that you can get your teen the professional help they need to treat addiction.
Common Risk Factors for Adolescent Addiction
There are certain risk factors that enhance the likelihood that an adolescent will use mind-altering substances and develop a drug addiction, according to research from the Mayo Clinic.
A primary risk factor for adolescent substance use disorder is a family history of the same. Low self-esteem or feelings of being socially isolated or rejected are also seen as risk factors. A teen who is impulsive or who engages in unnecessary risk-taking behavior also presents a more significant risk of suffering addiction.
A teen who suffered a traumatic event like a car accident, physical abuse or sexual abuse is at a higher risk for substance use disorder. A young person with a mental or an emotional condition is also at a greater risk for addiction.
How to Approach the Subject of Drug Use and Addiction With Your Children
There are some thoughtful tactics you can employ when it comes to effectively approaching your children about drug use and addiction. Above all, the most important step you can take is to have consistently open communication with them.
When it comes to specifically approaching your children regarding the subject of drug use and addiction, a good starting point is asking your teen’s viewpoint on the subject. You can build upon your teen’s views and use them as segue to a broader discussion on the subject of drug use. This includes listening to your adolescent’s opinions about mind-altering substances.
In striving to have a meaningful discussion with your children on subjects like drug use and addiction, you must avoid lecturing them. You need to clearly assure a teenager that they can be honest with you.
Although you will want to discuss with your children reasons to not use drugs, you don’t want to use unnecessary scare tactics. You want to be candid and frank but not unnecessarily dramatic. When talking about the harmful consequences of drug use and addiction, provide concrete, real-life examples. For example, you can provide your teen with reliable information on the health consequences of using different types of drugs, including alcohol.
If you have personally experienced using some type of mind-altering substance, particularly when you were younger, be prepared to be honest about this element of your life. It’s likely that if you attempt to broach a discussion of drug use with your children, they may question you about your own experiences.
Be as proactive as possible in addressing the issue of drug use. This will ensure your children have the support they need. Keeping an open line of communication will prove to be one of the most important assets in the arsenal of keeping your children as healthy, safe and secure as possible.
Treating Drug or Alcohol Addiction in Adolescents
Should you find that your child is abusing a mind-altering substance, it’s important to remember that you are not alone in helping them find treatment. Facilities like Green Mountain Treatment Center and NFA Behavioral Health can provide more information about programs that specifically address addiction in teens. Many rehab facilities offer resources for treating addiction alongside a co-occurring mental illness. Staff members ranging from professional clinicians to counselors and even fitness instructors will offer compassionate treatment to help restore your child’s mental and physical health. Family members are often invited to participate in therapy to help rebuild relationships that may have been damaged by the patterns of addiction.
Drug abuse and addiction affect numerous adolescents every year, but you can have hope that effective treatment is available for your teen.