Signs and Principles of Teen Drug Use
When is it time to get professional help for your teenager? Science tells us how drugs and alcohol affect an adolescent differently than adults.
In the adolescent years, the areas of the brain that are responsible for judgment and self-inhibition are still developing, while the areas of the brain that govern reward-seeking and emotion are fully formed. In other words, the adolescent brain can be thought of as a car with a gas pedal (the reward system) that is fully functioning but with very weak brakes (the prefrontal cortex).
Addiction is not the only danger to an adolescent. Abusing drugs during adolescence interrupts developmental milestones and cognitive development. This means that this can result in a loss of several IQ points that are not regained after drug abuse stops in adulthood. Studies show that this is true with the abuse of marijuana, which by large now is erroneously labeled as “safe” for use.
Most teens with substance abuse problems do not think they need help, nor see any particular problems with their addiction. Some adults dismiss drug use as a normal part of growing up. Many adolescents do not feel the full consequences of their addiction due to their age, parental intervention, or the criminal justice system.
Adolescents that are addicted to substances quickly see negative effects in their lives, which may include failing out of school, problems with family and/or other relationships, a loss of interest in normal healthy activities, problems with memory, changes in mood, and increasingly high-risk behaviors that could lead to the transmission of an infectious disease or death.
Substance use or abuse can progress to addiction when there is a loss of control over your life. All drugs raise the level of the chemical dopamine in the brain, which controls reward and pleasure for human beings. Drugs and alcohol release abnormally high levels of dopamine in the brain, unlike anything that natural rewards would release, hence feeding the addictive cycle. The adolescent brain, which is by definition an immature brain, already struggling with the balance of self/impulse control, is more likely to use alcohol or drugs again without considering the consequences. As these experiences repeat, the brain connects pleasure with the use of alcohol or drugs, making that connection stronger and stronger after each use. Soon, the substance becomes the most important part of life, surpassing the need for our basic needs such as survival, food, water – everything. It becomes an addiction that has taken over everything and everyone.
There are certain points that must be considered when discussing adolescent substance use disorder treatment. First, adolescent substance use needs to be identified and addressed as soon as possible. Drugs have a lasting effect on the developing brain, so it is crucial to intervene as early as possible. Second, treatment should address the needs of the whole person, not just focusing on their addiction. At Triple Divide Lodge, we believe that recovery encompasses the mind, body, and spirit. Third, families are a very important part of treatment. Healing and recovery are not just for the adolescent; addiction takes a toll and infiltrates every part of a person’s life, especially those closest to them. Finally, we must also identify and treat any other mental health conditions that present with the addiction. Adolescents who are experiencing addiction quite often suffer from conditions such as depression, anxiety, trauma, and anxiety-related disorders, and conduct problems to name a few. Clinical services and treatment at Triple Divide Lodge are integrated with the 12 step model to promote healing in all areas needed.
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Adolescents and Addiction
Why do adolescents use drugs?
They may use to fit in with their peer groups, to feel good about themselves or their life, to feel better due to some type of emotional or physical pain, or to simply experiment.
What drugs are most frequently used by adolescents?
The most common drug used by adolescents is alcohol, followed by marijuana, amphetamines, synthetic marijuana AKA Spice, prescription painkillers, and others.
Is it possible to become addicted to marijuana?
Yes. Despite the trending belief that the use of marijuana is “safe”, studies show that the abuse of marijuana in adolescents harms the developing brain. Long-term marijuana users experience increased tolerance and those who try to quit report withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and cravings.
Triple Divide Lodge Can Help
Addiction is not something that you can simply overcome by willpower alone. Here at Triple Divide Lodge, we embrace the full 12 step model of recovery along with adventure therapy. We are the only ones that fully encompass the two, creating a very powerful, clinically sound, and life-changing program for the clients and families that we serve. We are here to help. Please reach out to us for more information at (406) 296-5776.
Angelica Bennett, MA, MAC, MEd, LPC has been in the behavioral health field for 20 years. She has experience working with children, young adults, families, in substance abuse, among other populations. Angelica has two Master of Arts degrees in Counseling, and a Master of Education in Elementary Education. She is independently licensed as a Professional Counselor. She has advanced training in trauma informed care, as well as formal training in EMDR and DBT. Angelica has worked in a variety of settings including hospitals, community behavioral health, and with Native American populations. She has experience as a therapist, a clinical supervisor, and clinical trainer, developing and administering clinical trainings for staff and stakeholders. Angelica also enjoys creating clinical programs to promote clinical growth for staff. She is fluent in Spanish and enjoys all things that have to do with nature. When she is not working on helping others be their best self, she can be found hanging out with her husband Mike, their four children, and their dog Socks doing something outdoors.