Treating an addiction to drugs or alcohol can be challenging, but recovery is possible with the right treatment.
Addiction can be both physical and psychological. Treating only the physical aspect of the addiction won’t address the psychological triggers that compel the person to keep abusing drugs. In order to achieve recovery from addiction, it’s important to treat both aspects of the disease.
Addiction is considered a chronic relapsing disease of the brain. Just like any other chronic illness, the disease must be properly managed over time. The relapse rates for addiction are similar to those of other chronic illnesses, including asthma and type II diabetes, so effective treatment needs to incorporate an ongoing aftercare management plan to reduce the risk of symptoms returning.
Where Does Addiction Stem From in Teens?
Everyone’s personal addiction triggers are slightly different. The psychology behind addictive behavior is frequently based in personal stress factors that aren’t always apparent to others.
There has been plenty of research conducted on how drugs can cause significant changes within the brain’s chemistry, leading to compulsive drug or alcohol abuse. However, the initial psychological trigger that starts the cycle of addiction can be hard to pinpoint and even harder to resolve, which is what makes the disease so complex.
Some of the emotional triggers can include:
Low Self-Image and Poor Self-Worth
Social media, movies, TV and video games can affect the psychological well-being of many adolescents. Comparing themselves to the ‘perfect’ people with ‘perfect’ lives they see in various forms of media can result in feelings of inadequacy.
Unrealistic expectations fueled by the media can lead to significant emotional struggles that increase the risk of developing mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
Statistics show there is a common link between depression and addiction. Teens struggling with depressive symptoms may attempt to self-medicate in an effort to elevate their mood. Drugs and alcohol may provide a temporary way to numb painful thoughts, escape negative emotions, or improve mood.
However, alcohol and some types of drugs are a central nervous system depressant that can actually make symptoms of depression worse. In an effort to recapture the temporary reprieve from negative emotions, the cycle of self-medication can quickly lead to depression.
Desire to Achieve
Statistics show that many teens will turn to ‘study drugs’ in an effort to achieve better grades. Prescription stimulant medications such as Ritalin, Concerta or Adderall are frequently abused by students who feel an overwhelming sense of pressure to achieve higher academic grades.
The stimulant effect of abusing prescription medications can cause significant changes to the brain’s neurotransmitters that can result in a full-blown addiction very quickly.
The social stigma of being popular and fitting in with other teens is a strong source of stress for many adolescents. In an effort to feel accepted by others, many give in to peer pressure and experiment with drugs or alcohol. In order to remain popular, experimentation can quickly turn to drug abuse.
What Happens to Your Brain When You Take Drugs?
Taking drugs artificially stimulates the reward circuits within your brain so the user feels a temporary rush of euphoria. Drugs trick your brain’s chemistry to respond by releasing a flood of chemical neurotransmitters called dopamine into your system, which alters the way nerve cells usually send, receive or process information.
Drugs such as heroin or marijuana have a similar structure to the brain’s natural chemical neurotransmitters, so they bind to the receptors within the brain. Other drugs, such as methamphetamine or cocaine cause the brain to release abnormally large amounts of neurotransmitters that stop the normal recycling of brain chemicals that would normally stop the signal between neurons.
The natural reward system in the body is activated by behaviors that are linked to human survival, such as eating, exercising, spending time with loved ones, or achieving significant goals. Taking drugs overstimulates the brain’s reward system to such a degree that the action and subsequent feeling of ‘reward’ are stored in long-term memory as being another form of survival-behavior that results in pleasure.
How Does Addiction Start in the Brain?
The brain’s reaction to artificial over-stimulation from drugs creates a pattern that compels some people to repeat the behavior and take more drugs. Over time, taking more drugs causes tolerance.
The brain adapts to the presence of the substance in the system, so the user doesn’t feel the same ‘high’ any longer. The user needs to take larger doses to achieve the same effects that used to require smaller amounts.
Abusing any substance of addiction for a length of time eventually tricks the brain into thinking it is no longer able to produce feel-good hormones dopamine or serotonin naturally. The only way the person is able to feel any pleasure at all is to continue taking drugs.
The adaptation of the brain’s circuits leads the user to feel almost uncontrollable urges, or cravings to take more drugs, even when the substance isn’t available.
Long-term drug abuse changes other brain circuits too. Studies of the brain in drug-addicted people show significant changes in the regions associated with judgment, decision making, learning, memory and behavior control are all negatively affected by drug abuse. The alterations lead to the person seeking out and taking drugs compulsively, despite any negative or adverse consequences they may experience.
When intake of the substance stops suddenly, the brain isn’t able to adapt quickly so the person is likely to experience extremely unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. In an effort to avoid the onset of those symptoms, the person will continue taking more drugs. At this point, the person is considered dependent on the drug, or addicted.
Behavioral Disorders and Addiction
Studies show a distinct link between teens with mental health problems and addiction. It’s estimated that up to 65% of people with at least one mental health disorder also struggle with substance abuse problems.
Adolescents with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at higher risk of developing a substance abuse problem as compared to the general population.
Many teens living with ADHD are often extremely bright, creative and intelligent. Yet lots of teens experience a negative impact on academic performance, social development and job success. Some may have difficulty fitting in with others, which can increase the likelihood of them engaging in drug or alcohol abuse in an effort to fit in socially. Others may turn to substance abuse out of frustration or feelings of low self-worth.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is also strongly linked to addiction. People struggling with symptoms of PTDS often turn to drugs or alcohol in an effort to numb painful feelings or emotions, to block out traumatic memories, or to try and gain a small measure of control in their lives.
Anxiety and depression are other common mental health disorders that are frequently linked with higher-than-normal rates of drug abuse. Many teens living anxiety or depressive disorders may turn to substance abuse. As opiate drugs, sedative/hypnotics and alcohol are all central nervous system depressants, mental illness symptoms can worsen, leading to a vicious cycle of substance abuse.
Effective Treatment Options
Detoxification is the first crucial step in treating any drug or alcohol addiction, but it won’t lead to recovery on its own. Detox is designed to eliminate the toxins from the substance from the body and helps to break the physical dependency on the drug. In order to recover from addiction, it’s important to address the psychological aspect of the disease simultaneously.
The most effective addiction rehab treatments are those that integrate a combination of therapies designed to suit the individual person’s characteristics. Just as no addiction is the same, no single treatment option will have the same effect on every person.
Trained staff in a residential rehab center will assess each person and base the type of treatments used on the type of drug being abused, the amount being taken, the severity of the addiction, and any underlying or co-occurring disorders that need to be treated simultaneously.
Some of the most effective addiction treatment options that may be combined include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy yields excellent results in treating the psychological aspect of addiction. Therapy is designed to correct dysfunctional behaviors and attitudes and replace them with healthy new habits and skills.
Individual counseling sessions can be crucial to recovery for many people. Many people struggling with substance abuse have low self-esteem and poor images of self-worth. Counseling works to improve self-image and instill a stronger sense of self-worth in recovering people that reduces the need to return to drugs or alcohol.
Group Meetings and 12-step Programs
Regular attendance to group meetings and 12-step programs can help the recovering person develop a new network of likeminded people facing the same challenges. Groups provide additional peer support and guidance in conjunction with other therapies. Group meetings also reduce feelings of isolation, as social interaction reassures them that there are others going through similar issues.
Family therapy and counseling sessions are beneficial for every member in the family unit. Each person in the family has a positive role to play in the recovery process, so therapy works to help everyone understand the importance of their own role and how addiction has affected them too.
Art and Music Therapy
Creative therapies can yield excellent results in many recovering people. Artistic pursuits offer alternative ways to express emotions and feelings. They also provide a sense of achievement and accomplishment that is highly therapeutic.
Yoga and Meditation
One of the key triggers for addiction is uncontrolled stress. Yoga and meditation both provide strong stress management techniques that make it easier to relax. Yoga is also ideal for helping to tone and strengthen core muscles that may be weakened or ravaged after substance abuse. As the body begins to re-develop muscle tone, many people notice that self-esteem also increases accordingly.
Importance of Aftercare Programs
Graduating from rehab as a clean and sober person is a huge accomplishment. However, the nature of addiction as a disease means that ongoing daily aftercare is required to prevent relapsing back to substance abuse.
A good residential rehab center will provide recovering teens with a strong relapse prevention plan to help reduce the risk of returning to drugs or alcohol after treatment. Relapse prevention includes learning to recognize and prevent addiction triggers, as well as learning strong new coping skills for living life without the need for drugs.
Other aftercare programs may include life skills training, career development training, and job placement assistance. College selection and preparation, along with transitional planning may also be beneficial for those who wish to pursue further education after recovery.
Give us a call at 877-466-0620 to learn more about the disease of addiction.