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Substance Abuse in Adolescence

Substance abuse impacts the brains of young adults in damaging ways.

What Is Adolescent Substance Abuse?

Adolescent substance abuse occurs when an adolescent engages in drug use. Being a teenager and raising one are both heavy challenges. For several teens, illicit substance abuse becomes a part of their overall landscape during their teenage years.

Even though the majority of adolescents who engage in substance abuse don’t progress to becoming users in adulthood, it’s still a risky proposition. Degrees of substance abuse in adolescence can have negative consequences on a person’s life.

Familial and school relationships are the most affected by whether an adolescent engages in:

  • Marijuana
  • Alcohol
  • inhalants

One of the most revealing signs that suggest substance abuse in adolescence is once it becomes a part of the adolescent’s daily life. Once a preoccupation occurs in an adolescent’s life, the previously important activities begin to fade out. The way teens start to view self-image might alter into more inaccurate and unrealistic descriptions.

The friendship groups that a teen has might begin to change and the familial relationships might become more conflictual or even distant. Further signs might include more frequent or greater use of drugs and more dangerous addictions such as amphetamines, heroin addiction, or cocaine.

When persistent substance abuse in adolescence occurs, that is a telltale sign that there are issues in that teen’s environment that exists and need to be addressed immediately.

During adolescence and young adulthood, drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, and prescription and illegal drugs are the most abused. By the time these same adolescents are seniors, about 70% of high school students will have tried alcohol.

Half of that amount will have taken an illegal drug, 40% will have smoked a cigarette and over 20% will have used a prescription drug for a nonmedical purpose.

Reasons Young Adults Use Substances

There are several reasons/causes why young adults engage in substance use:

  • An attempt to deal with problems and perform better at school
  • The desire for new experiences
  • Simply, peer pressure

Though there isn’t a single cause of substance abuse in adolescence, it’s important to understand that it develops gradually. There are various pathways to the full development of an adolescent’s substance abuse matter. Adolescents are “biologically wired” to seek out new experiences and take on risks, as well as work on carving out their identities.

When an adolescent decides to engage in substance abuse, it might fulfill all of the normal development drives. However, this process occurs in an unhealthy way that can, in turn, have long-lasting consequences. Some of the factors that contribute to substance abuse in adolescence are:

  • Favorable parental attitudes toward substance abuse and parental drug use
  • Poorly communicated and poorly defined rules and expectations against substance use
  • A lack of communication and interaction that occurs between parents and children
  • Insufficient parental supervision and monitoring
  • An inconsistent and excessive severe discipline
  • Family conflict

Other factors that can influence whether or not an adolescent engages in substance use include:

  • The availability of drugs within the neighborhood, community, and the school
  • Drug use in the household will increase the likelihood of drug use
  • Whether or not the adolescent’s friends are engaging in drug use
  • Mental conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, and depression
  • Violence and physical or emotional abuse, mental illness
  • Personality traits such as poor impulse control
  • A belief that drugs are cool and harmless
  • A high need for excitement

Individual Risk Factors

  • Perceptions of extensive use by peers
  • Difficulty maintaining emotional stability
  • Perceived low harmfulness to use
  • High sensation seeking
  • Psychological distress
  • Impulsiveness
Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse in Young Adults

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse in Young Adults

Behavioral Signs and Symptoms

  • Isolating from damaging relationships with family and friends
  • Withdrawing from classroom participation/slipping in grades
  • Losing interest in activities and hobbies
  • Resisting feedback and discipline
  • Making excuses or outright lying
  • Abandoning long-time friends
  • Frequently asking for money
  • Ignoring/breaking the curfew
  • Locking bedroom doors
  • Missing school or work
  • Making secretive calls
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Acting irresponsibly
  • Stealing

Physical Signs and Symptoms

  • Track marks on the arms and legs (wearing low sleeves even in warm weather)
  • Extremely hyperactive or extremely tired
  • Poor hygiene or change in appearance
  • Cold, sweaty palms or shaking hands
  • Frequent nosebleeds or runny nose
  • Irrability, paranoia, fidgeting, anxiety
  • Difficulty staying on task or focused
  • Pupils smaller or larger than usual
  • Rapid weight loss or gain
  • Mood or attitude changes
  • Bloodshot or glazed eyes
  • Swollen, puffy face
  • Mouth sores
  • Headaches

How Substance Abuse Impacts the Brains of Young Adults

Substance abuse impacts the brains of young adults in damaging ways. It interferes with neurotransmitters by damaging connections to the brain. Substance abuse in adolescence creates memory problems and reduces the ability to experience pleasure.

The teenage years are a crucial window of vulnerability to substance use disorders. This is because an adolescent’s brain is still easily influenced, less mature, and developing.

The adolescent brain is linked to a car that is a fully functioning gas pedal (the reward system) but with weak brakes (the prefrontal cortex).

Teenage years are vital to healthy and cognitive function as an adult. Therefore it’s paramount to maintain a strict level of healthy behavior during these years.

Substance abuse in adolescence can impact the teen’s brain’s ability short-term as well as prevent the proper growth and development needed long-term. The parts of the brain that process the reward feelings and pain, (critical drivers of drug use) are the first to mature during childhood.

The prefrontal cortex remains underdeveloped and it’s responsible for:

  • Controlling emotions and impulses
  • Making sound decisions
  • Accessing situations

Treatment Options for Adolescent Substance Abuse

The most effective treatment options for adolescent substance abuse are evidence-based. Therefore, it can be the following level of care to tackle the matter.

  • Early intervention services
  • Outpatient treatment program (OP)
  • Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP)
  • Inpatient or residential treatment 

Besides treatment, therapy has been proven to treat the entire needs of the teenager. By taking into account the whole person, the physical and mental concerns will be addressed. Therefore, incorporating the below therapeutic models can also be beneficial.

Long-Term Effects of Substance Abuse in Young Adults

Substance abuse in the youth is more at a higher risk than nonusers for long-term mental health effects such as:

  • Attempted suicide
  • Personality disorders
  • Conduct problems
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Depression
  • Suicide

Substance Abuse in Adolescence Tackled at Illinois Recovery Center

Adolescents engaging in substance abuse exhibit several behavioral and physical signs and symptoms. There are numerous reasons why teenagers get linked to drug use. It can impact their brain’s long-term development and growth. There are various treatment options available. Contact us today to get started.

References

https://nida.nih.gov/publications/principles-adolescent-substance-use-disorder-treatment-research-based-guide/introduction
https://ojjdp.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh176/files/pubs/drugid/ration-03.html#:~:text=Substance%2Dabusing%20youth%20are%20at,%2C%20attempted%20suicide%2C%20and%20suicide.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166985/