Teen Substance Abuse

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According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 90% of people who have substance problems and addiction started using drugs and alcohol before they were 18. Abuse of substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs by teenagers is the most expensive and most serious health issue in the United States of America. More-so, it is the health problem that causes the most preventable deaths among teenagers, and it is a risk factor for up to 70 other illnesses. Drug awareness is human beings generally begin at ages 12 and 13 with 13 year old teenager three times more likely to know someone who uses drugs and alcohol as well as where they can get some than 12 year olds do.

Young adults account for up to 50% of new users of addictive, illicit substances. According to the National Centre on Addition and Substance Abuse, up to 10 million (75%) high school students have used addictive substances, including alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco, with up to 20% addicted. 46% of these high school students currently make use of these substances, with 1 in 3 of them meeting the criteria for addiction.

In another study, 52% of children in 8th grade had taken alcohol, 41% had taken cigarettes, and 20% had taken marijuana. By the time these children are in 12th grade, the numbers had increased to 80% for alcohol intake, 63% for cigarette intake, and 49% for marijuana intake. 40% of children who start taking alcohol at age 14 or younger developed alcohol addiction as they grow into adults. This, compared to 10% of youths that only start drinking at age 20, shows that adolescent and teenage substance abuse puts them at a higher risk of substance use addiction. Substance abuse in teenagers and adolescents interferes with brain development, making them more prone to addiction with long term cognitive and behavioral effects.

Substances Abused By Adolescents And Teenagers

The most abused substances by teenagers and young adults are alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. Younger adolescents and children may first be attracted to inhalant substances such as glues, pen, paint thinners, and fumes of house cleaning machines. Other substances abused include:

  • Caffeine
  • Stimulants (cocaine and amphethaines)
  • Hallucinogens (LSD psilocybin, and phenylcyclidine)
  • Stimulants (cocaine and amphethaines)
  • Opioids (morphine, oxycodeine, and fentanyl)
  • Prescription drugs (sedatives, anti-anxiety and antidepressants)
  • Nicotine

Why Teens Experiment With Drugs And Illicit Substances

There are several reasons why adolescents and teenagers may abuse drugs and alcohol. Some of these reasons include:

1. To feel good A lot of teenagers take illicit and recreational drugs because it makes them feel good. Intake of illicit drugs usually produces feelings of pleasure and euphoria in the children. Depending on the substance taken, the levels of pleasure differ in teenagers.

2. To Enhance PerformanceTeenagers also use certain drugs because they enhance their physical and mental performances. They can perform better in athletics or their academics.

Symptoms Of Substance Abuse

There are always warning signs and symptoms noticeable in children, teenagers, and young adults that abuse substances.  Some of these symptoms may be pointers to other mental illnesses, but parents and family members need to pay keen attention when they notice a combination of these symptoms in their child or loved one

  • Intoxication, abnormal and irrational behavior
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Bad grades, truancy, and lack of discipline
  • A decline in personal hygiene and grooming
  • Alcoholic breath or drugs and marijuana odor on clothes
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Bloodshot eyes and delirium
  • Unusual dizziness and tiredness
  • Secretive behaviors
  • Coming home late
  • Indifference to curfews, rules, and regulations
  • Change in sleeping and eating pattern
  • Frequent anger, outbursts, and argument
  • Sadness, mood swings, and suicidal tendencies.

Experimenting with illicit substances and prescription drugs for non medical purposes increase teenagers’ risk of contracting an infectious disease (from practicing unsafe sex or using infected needles and syringes), impaired memory, mental health problems, and dying from an overdose.

Substance Abuse Disorder

Drugs and alcohol abuse by adolescents and teenagers increase their risk of being dependent on these substances.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teenagers are especially more vulnerable to substance abuse disorder because the prefrontal cortex part of their brains that is responsible for making useful judgements and assessing situations is yet to fully develop while the part of the brain responsible for processing feelings of reward and pain is fully developed. When teenagers use drugs, the brain may react by flooding the brain’s reward circuit while not properly analyzing or assessing the risk.

Substance use disorder is a mental illness that arises from substance abuse. It occurs when an individual is unable to control substance use despite having problems caused by their substance abuse. The individual is addicted and becomes physically and psychologically dependent on the substance (drug or alcohol). It is important to know that substance abuse does not guarantee substance abuse disorder. Several other factors determine whether an individual will develop a substance abuse disorder. The biological and genetic makeup of an individual may make them more prone to developing a substance abuse disorder.

The personal characteristic of the individual, such as high impulse, risk taking, and adventure seeking tendencies, may increase the individual’s risk of addiction and substance used disorder. Also, sad people, socially isolated, and emotionally disturbed people, as well as people who have a disease, have a lot of pain or have an unrelated diagnosed mental illness such as depression or anxiety disorder at at more risk of having a substance abuse disorder when they abuse these substances.

The nature and characteristics of the drugs used may also be a risk factor in the development of substance abuse disorder. How quickly the drug works, how it affects the brain’s reward circuit, how it is used, and the drug’s ability to induce tolerance or cause withdrawal are factors that determine a teenager’s development of the mental disorder. Also, abuse of legal drugs (prescription and over the counter drug) are more likely to cause a substance abuse disorder than illicit drugs.

Abuse of substance may also cause substance induced disorders in people. This is also a mental illness, but it is different from substance abuse disorder. While the effects of substance abuse disorder occur over a long period as addiction worsens, substance induced disorder is defined as the immediate effect of abusing a substance, called “intoxication,” and the immediate effect of stopping or discontinuing the substance, called “withdrawal.”

Substance induced disorder includes substance induced delirium, substance induced sleep disorder, substance induced psychotic disorder, substance induced anxiety disorder, substance induced mood disorder, substance induced persisting dementia, substance induced persisting amnestic disorder, substance induced sexual dysfunction and hallucinogen persisting perceptual disorder

.Cooccurence is also very common in cases of substance abuse disorder. Also known as dual diagnosis, coocurrence is when an individual suffering from substance abuse disorder also suffers from another unrelated mental illness such as PTSD, anxiety disorder, or depression.

Diagnosis And Treatment Of Substance Abuse Disorder

When a teenager exhibits multiple symptoms of substance abuse, it is important to employ the help of a medical health professional in a qualified facilty. The mental helath professional or therapist will do some physical and mental examination on the teenager to diagnose a substance abuse disorder. There are four major criteria for the diagnosis of a substance abuse disorder or substance addiction.

The teenager or individual must exhibit physical symptoms of withdrawal and tolerance. Withdrawal is an unpleasant effect that cessation of the substance or counteraction by another substance has on the individual. Tolerance, however, occurs when the individual needs to take an increased dosage of the substance in other to feel the desired effect or high of the drug. Other criteria include the individual’s inability to control the use of the substance and constantly craves it, the individual continues to use the substance even when in dangerous conditions, the individual’s ability to function normally has been impaired by the substance use and abuse.

Treatment of substance abuse disorder is different for each individual. The treatment also depends on the specific substance to which the individual is addicted. The treatment facility setting may be an in-patient residential program or outpatient teen rehab centre depending on the needs of the teenager.  A combination of addiction treatment approaches may be used as recommended by the professional. This treatment includes:

  • Detoxification is done to help the patient stop using the addictive substance. The detoxification may take a few to days to weeks, and it may be done in a residential or outpatient facility. Detoxification is also known as withdrawal therapy; done quickly and safely; the process of detox differs for each addictive substance.
  • The professional may also use psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or counseling as a form of treatment. Using dialectical or cognitive behavioral therapy, a licensed alcohol or drug counselor talks the patient through his condition, and they find ways to cope without substance abuse. They also discuss possible ways to avoid relapse. Peer group therapy and family therapy are also used in treatment.
  • In the case of co-occuring disorders, treatment should cover both mental disorders and substance abuse simultaneously. Substance abuse disorder in teenagers negatively affects the teen’s relationship with family members. However, during this period of treatment, the family’s support is needed to get through the healing process. The family should attempt to reestablish meaning communication and give a sense of assurance and security to the patient.
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