Teens struggle with addiction too

The most pivotal but vulnerable period of a person’s life is their teenage years.

During this time, teenagers develop their sense of self, explore interests, develop deeper relationships, and make the transition from a being a child into an adult. However, teenagehood is also a period where one is susceptible to making poor decisions with consequences that will affect the rest of their life – particularly, in the case of choosing to use drugs and alcohol.

Teenagers use drugs and alcohol for various reasons. They may have a desire to be socially acceptable to their peers or fit into a particular crowd of friends. Or they might be curious as to how drugs and alcohol can affect them, their behaviours, and ability to have fun. Alternatively, they may turn to abusing substances as a form of coping with stress or dealing with boredom.

What teenage addiction looks like today

According to a study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, the statistics for teen illegal substance abuse has heavily declined over the past couple of years. However, this does not change the fact that drug and alcohol will negatively affect teens. What may seem like harmless participation or exposure to recreational drug or alcohol use can unexpectedly become a lifelong addiction.

Take the current opioid epidemic in the U.S., for example. Close to 29% of patients prescribed painkillers will abuse them and become addicted at some point in their temporary treatment. Why? The drugs that make up the medication are inherently addictive despite being in their bodies for a short amount of time. As a result, this demonstrates that people under the slightest influence of highly-addictive drugs are more likely to become addicts.

In regards to teen addiction, what ultimately makes them follow similar footsteps is the nature of their brain under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Teenage brains are still in the process of development

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, the rational decision-making components of the teenage brain does not develop until age 25. Teens think and react from the amygdala, a part of the brain’s limbic system that reacts from emotion. Whereas adults consider their actions from the prefrontal cortex, the rational-thinking part of the brain that gives one the ability to make good judgment calls and understand the impact of consequences; it is also an area that is directly connected to the complexity of behaviours, one’s organization skills, and development of personal identity. Naturally, this demonstrates that teenagers will innately make different choices from adults.

Drugs and alcohol influence the brain’s reward system that propels teenagers to make certain choices over others

The feeling of “reward” for a teen brain directly influences their choices, which are the foundation for their habits. According to a study from the University of Pittsburgh, it was found that the brain activity of teen rats and teen humans were equally applicable. When drugs and alcohol affect the brain, they trigger up to ten times the amount of dopamine in comparison to natural rewards, such as eating or having sex. Evidently, drugs and alcohol send the brain into a state of euphoria, conditioning it to constantly seek the substances that elicit the same feeling over and over again.

In the case of human teenagers, because their underdeveloped and emotionally-driven brain experiences the extreme feelings of reward and euphoria from drugs and alcohol, they will be more susceptible to abusing drugs out of impulse in order to achieve instant gratification. Furthermore, teenagers also more affected by stress than adults because of their innate emotional and impulsive reactions to outside stimuli, which is another contributing factor of poor decision-making skills.

Overall, despite a teen’s vulnerability to addiction, potential substance abuse can be avoided by educating them on the subject

Despite the vulnerability of a teen brain to addiction, the issue is avoidable. The main action to take in order to prevent potential substance abuse is providing education: if you’re the parent of a teenager, inform them on facts about drugs, alcohol, and the consequences of abusing substances. The tool of education may not completely stop them from using drugs and alcohol, but it does give them the knowledge to think twice about their future choices, practice logic, and encourage them to make decisions that always consider the grand scheme of things.

In conclusion, your teenager does not have to become another statistic that has been affected by addiction and can never recover. If you are suspicious about them already abusing drugs, don’t hesitate to take action, communicate your concerns, and get them help if necessary.

Article provided by Trevor McDonald