Addiction in teens is viewed by the medical and mental health communities as a chronic and relapsing disease of the brain that causes compulsive drug seeking behaviors and use of drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences.
Initially, the decision to take drugs or alcohol is voluntary, but according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA, continued drug or alcohol use causes physical changes in the structures and functions of the parts of the brain that control judgment and self-control.
The Effects of Drugs and Alcohol on the Brain
The prefrontal cortex of the brain is responsible for helping us maintain self-control, assess situations and make good decisions. Because the prefrontal cortex of an adolescent’s brain is still developing, teenagers are at a higher risk of making poor decisions to begin with, and the changes to the brain that result from taking drugs during this critical period of development can have lasting consequences.
When teens use drugs or alcohol for the first time and experiences the pleasurable effects due to the unnaturally high levels of dopamine that are unleashed, the brain’s reward circuitry remembers the association between drugs and the pleasant feelings, leading to addiction. Over time, the brain responds to the drug-induced flood of dopamine by reducing the amount of dopamine it produces or by reducing the number of dopamine receptors. As a result, it can become difficult for a young person to feel pleasure without the presence of drugs. Also as a result of these changes, it will begin to take higher doses of the drugs or alcohol to get the desired effect. This is known as tolerance, and eventually, it may lead to physical dependence on the drug, marked by withdrawal symptoms when it’s withheld from the body, according to NIDA.
Not everyone who takes drugs will become addicted, though. Whether an addiction develops is determined by a person’s genetic makeup and various environmental factors.
Environmental and Genetic Risks for Addiction
The more genetic and environmental risk factors your teen has in regards to substance abuse, the higher the risk that he or she will develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Environmental risk factors include:
- The presence of adults or older teens in the household who abuse drugs or alcohol or engage in criminal behavior.
- Having friends who abuse drugs or alcohol. Peer pressure is a powerful environmental factor for using drugs and for becoming addicted to them.
- Poor social skills. Many teens use drugs or alcohol as a “social lubricant” to reduce feelings of anxiety or shyness.
- The availability of drugs at school.
- Lack of parental supervision.
Biological risk factors and the effects of environmental factors on particular genes account for up to 60 percent of a person’s risk of becoming addicted to drugs, according to NIDA. The biological risk factors for addiction include having a medical condition or mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, and having a close family member who is or has been addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Getting Help for Your Teen’s Addiction
Teens take drugs initially for a variety of reasons, including to alleviate stress-related disorders and low self-esteem or to improve academic performance, such as when abusing stimulants, or sports performance, such as when abusing steroids.
Without adequate treatment, the addiction and its consequences – including damaged relationships, run-ins with the law and physical and mental health problems – will likely become worse. Addiction treatment through a high quality, holistic treatment program is based on identifying the underlying issues that led to the addiction in the first place and working to replace false or self-destructive attitudes and beliefs about oneself and the world with beliefs and attitudes that are healthy and productive. This is done through cognitive behavioral therapy and other traditional and alternative therapies.
If your teen becomes addicted to drugs, this type of program can help them overcome the addiction and learn a great deal about himself or herself in the process, which goes a long way toward helping to ensure successful long-term recovery and preventing dangerous drug-abusing behaviors in the future.
Give us a call at 877-466-0620 to learn more about teen addiction.