What is Addiction?
Addiction to drugs or alcohol affects all walks of life, and it doesn't discriminate amongst race, age, or gender. Whether you're an addict or you know someone who is, it's crucial to understand the most common addictions, why they happen, and what you can do about it.
Becoming addicted to a substance can be easy, but understanding the consequences and getting help can be exceptionally difficult. When it comes to the most common addictions, alcohol is one of the most prevalent, particularly in teenagers and college-age adults.
Aside from alcohol, drug addiction has many forms and comes in a wide variety of formulations. From marijuana to prescription drugs and illegal street drugs, there's no shortage of substances out there today that can cause someone to become addicted. Teens are more inclined to take part in binge drinking, which can increase the risk of addiction later in life by a substantial amount.
Outside of issues with alcohol, marijuana is another common substance that can cause problems among teens. Most teenagers report that they started smoking marijuana in their young adolescent years. While many people feel that marijuana is harmless, it can cause brain changes and may actually stunt a person's cognitive function if the use begins at an early age.
In recent years, addiction to prescription painkillers known as opioids has become a worldwide crisis. This addition can happen when someone takes the medication as prescribed by their doctor, or it could be obtained illegally from someone on the street. Most people take opioids for therapeutic reasons to help with pain, but if this medication isn't monitored, it's very easy to become addicted quickly.
Abuse of prescription medication happens to people of all ages, and that includes teenagers. Narcotic painkillers like Oxycontin are one of the most common types of opioid medication that people tend to abuse.
A Warning About Other Prescription Drugs
Addiction to prescription medication isn't just limited to opioids. In fact, addiction to drugs classified as benzodiazepines is fast approaching opioid crisis levels.
These medications are typically given to help people sleep and include popular drugs like Xanax as one common example. Often prescribed for things like anxiety and insomnia, many people find it difficult to kick their addiction to "benzos" once they've been prescribed.
For many college-age adults, psychostimulants like Adderall and Ritalin can pose a serious problem. This prescription medication is usually given to patients with ADD or ADHD and it increased the levels of dopamine in the brain, causing many people to become hooked. These drugs are used by college students to help them focus and study, but the potential for addiction is quite high.
Besides prescription pills, addiction to street drugs like heroin and cocaine are also prevalent. Regardless of the substance being used, the consequences of addiction are extremely dire. Many teenagers end up with serious health issues or even die from addiction every single day.
Know the Signs of Addiction
As a parent, friend, or trusted family member, it's crucial that you know the common signs of addiction. When you can spot substance abuse early, it's much easier to get the person help. Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms that someone you love may be addicted or have trouble with substance abuse:
- A sudden loss of interest in things the person once loved such as sports, music, friends, or school clubs
- Total lack of control over things like behavior, attitude, and practicing impulsive behaviors (AKA "not knowing when to quit")
- Physical signs such as bloodshot eyes, dry mouth, and a sudden increase in thirst or extreme hunger
- Sleeping too much or not sleeping enough, resulting in irritability and failing grades
- New friends that you're not familiar with, and a constant desire to leave the house and meet up with these friends
- Broken promises, lateness to events, missing out on important life milestones and making excuses for not showing up
- Problems with personal relationships between parents, friends, siblings, and a boyfriend or girlfriend
- Sudden outbursts of anger or emotional bouts of crying and sobbing
- Symptoms of drug or alcohol withdrawal including sweating, shaking, vomiting, pale skin, or extreme nervousness
While not all of these are surefire signs of addiction, they are quite common in teens and adults. If you know someone who is exhibiting some of these behavioral changes, it's time to considering an intervention. Some addicts may undergo serious health risks if their withdrawal are severe, so it's extremely important to get help as soon as possible.
There are plenty of reasons why a person can become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some issues stem from emotional trauma or abuse, while others could simply be genetic. For teens, a feeling of peer pressure and the desire to fit in is one of the most common reasons they end up struggling with alcohol or drug abuse.
- Curiosity: During the teenage years, it's normal to be curious about things like drugs and what it might feel like to do them. Most teens use drugs or drink alcohol once simply out of curiosity. However, this can also lead to addiction in many cases.
- Using substances to cope: Some people tend to use drugs or alcohol as a means to cope with their emotions. Whether it's to regulate stress and anxiety or help with sleep, abuse happens when people use these substances to regulate their emotions instead of facing them head-on.
- Attention seeking: For many teens, using drugs makes them act differently, which puts the attention on them and their behavior. This is usually a cry for help if someone is abusing drugs or alcohol simply to gain the attention of others.
- Drinking and using drugs out of boredom: Unfortunately, some teens tend to drink or do drugs simply because they're bored. For kids who live in rural areas, alcoholism and substance abuse is quite common.
- Peer pressure/fitting in: Teens tend to cave under peer pressure, and their desire to fit in with their peers is especially strong during this time of life. When teenagers feel the pressure from others their age, they tend to cave pretty quickly. If another teen entices your child to do drugs and they're easily swayed, it isn't difficult for that one experiment to turn into a problem.
Whether you are a friend, parent, or teacher, there are some things you can do to help an addicted teenager. There's no one right or wrong answer when it comes to helping kids who are struggling with addiction and substance abuse. Parents and school faculty must work together to combat these problems and address them head-on.
Parents should keep all medications locked away and out of the reach of anyone who is not directly prescribed them. The same applies to alcohol in the home. Additionally, parents should never encourage or allow teens to drink, even if they're with them.
Active parenting is one of the best ways you can prevent addiction in your teen. Be present and a constant part of their life, and let them know they can always come to you with personal problems or concerns. When you establish an open door policy at home, it's much easier for your teenager to feel supported and to come to you when times get tough.
Try your best not to be judgemental and remember that you were a teenager once, too. Let your child know how much you love them, and do your best to focus on the positive things such as achievements they've had or hard work that they've done.
Education is crucial when it comes to preventing addiction, so talk to your teenagers about the harms of drugs and alcohol abuse. Most teens will steer clear of dangerous substances if they get this kind of education at home first.
Don't be afraid to ask for other resources if you need help with your teenager. Your school and local community organizations should have programs in place that can get your family the help you need. Rehabilitation is another option if your teen is dealing with a serious addiction problem.
If you're an educator who works with teens, there are plenty of things you can do to foster an environment that discourages drug and alcohol use. Encourage your school principal to participate in regular drug information sessions and assemblies. Hire speakers to host these sessions who can talk to students about the serious effects of drug and alcohol abuse.
Encourage an environment that uses open dialogue to communicate concerns between teachers and students. When you communicate openly about addiction, it's much easier for teens to get help when they need it and helps them become more resilient. It also eliminates feelings of shame that can cause addicts to go into hiding, making the problem worse.
The Center for Addiction and Mental Health has some excellent advice for educators and how they can help their students:
- Set boundaries in your classroom and make all rules and consequences clear for your students.
- Encourage your students to make constructive use of their time.
- Make sure you're always encouraging a genuine commitment to learning, and emphasize the importance of getting an education with your students.
- Inspire students to read for pleasure, not just for school assignments.
- When your students succeed, be sure to praise their achievements and accomplishments.
- Put the focus on students' unique abilities as well as any of their successes.
- Stay positive, maintain your sense of optimism, and try to place a positive view on learning at all times.
- Keep your lines of communication open, and be a good listener so students will trust you and open up when they need to talk.
- Keep an open mind and avoid making judgments on students.
- Ask your students for their opinions and listen to them carefully. This also creates a feeling of trust.
- Try to encourage your students to take part in extracurricular activities. Make suggestions for activities that play up their individual strengths.
When parents and teachers work in unison, the chances for teenage addiction become much lower. Foster an environment of openness, caring, and positivity to help encourage teens rather than discourage them. Schedule professional speakers who can come to your school and talk to your kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
Now that you know much more about these common addictions and what can be done about them, it's easier to prevent your teen from turning into an addict. Learn about the signs and symptoms of addiction, and be aware of the latest drugs that teens are tempted by.
If you'd like a presentation on drugs and alcohol for your school, visit my website for more information and click here to submit an inquiry. As always; please let me know if this was helpful, how I could improve and, if you have any questions.Your feedback helps me.
- Jonny Shannon