Teenagers use drugs and alcohol at social gatherings in order to relax and lower inhibition. Teens often experiment with party drugs initially due to peer pressure but later, it is to chase a feeling of euphoria or relief from their problems. While many teens try drugs, some develop a chemical dependency that lasts through adulthood. There are severe downsides to teen drug usage. Using psychoactive drugs in heavy doses changes the brain’s reward circuitry. When the brain is used to steady flows of “feel good” chemicals, it stops producing these chemicals in response to “feel good” situations. While it is normal for teens’ interests and priorities to change during adolescence, frequently heavy intoxication makes it harder for people to cope with life sober.
Why Are Teens More Susceptible to Drug Addiction than Adults?
Perhaps you never knew that teens suffer from drug addiction more easily than adults do. Teen drug addiction is NOT just the result of teens:
- Having no self-respect
- Suffering from peer pressure
- Bad parenting
Drug addiction is a complex disease that affects the brain in many ways. Involvement of the brain in drug addiction helps explain the primary reasons that teenagers are more susceptible. This is true no matter what substance is the teen’s drug of choice.
Parenting Strategy: Offer Conditional Amnesty
When we have open, ongoing conversations with our teens about drugs, they will feel empowered to see you as an ally instead of an authoritarian. Many parents use what is called an “amnesty policy.” An amnesty policy allows your teen to seek your assistance if they are placed in a compromising position without the fear of consequences. In this instance, your child will call you and ask for your help. You will guarantee that in these moments, you will not impose regular consequences such as a punishment. Instead, you will focus on getting them out of harm’s way. Then, of course, when the time is right, you will discuss the incident and express how proud you are for your teen to have contacted you instead of making a wrong choice.
How Drugs Change Your Teen’s Brain
As explained by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Drugs contain chemicals that tap into the brain’s communication system and disrupt the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information.”
There are multiple factors involved in the way that drugs change the brain and the processes involved with drug abuse and addiction. In a teenager, the effects of changes in the brain occur much faster than in adults. This is because the brain is not yet fully developed.
Drugs Interfere with a Time of Major Brain Development
The teenage years are a time of major development of the brain, particularly those areas associated with maturity, self-control, and decision-making. This lack of complete development in the brain of teenagers explains a variety of teen behavior such as risky and impulsive behaviors and actions. They seek immediate gratification without regard or complete knowledge of the long-term consequences. When teens experiment with drugs, they get that immediate gratification and seek it out repeatedly.
Why Resisting Drugs Is Harder for Teens
The changes in the not-fully-matured brain of teenagers cause teens to take unnecessary risks. It is difficult for many teenagers to resist the initial temptation of abusing drugs. The younger a teen starts using drugs creates a greater likelihood of progression to full-fledged drug addiction early in life and increases the chances of addiction later in life.
Parents may not know what to do to help their teenager who is addicted to alcohol or other drugs. Treatment is imperative to help the teenager overcome the addiction and to heal the entire family.
Teenagers are more susceptible to drug addiction than adults are. Whether the drug is alcohol, opioids, marijuana, or other substances, there are multiple reasons that teens suffer the devastation of drug addiction sooner than adults do.
Understanding the reasons leads not only to greater knowledge about how teens are more susceptible to addiction but can enlighten you to seek the help needed in the event your teen has a drug addiction.
Helping Your Teen Understand and Overcome Drug Addiction
Understanding that the teenage brain is much more susceptible to drug addiction and less able to resist the temptation to use drugs is the first part of helping your teen cope with his drug addiction.
Seeking help for your teenager at a drug treatment program that serves teenagers is imperative. While enforcing reasonable consequences is a good start, your teen won’t stop their drug abuse because you take away their phone and refuse to let them associate with their friends, whom you assume are responsible for the drug addiction.
Your teenager needs help from a comprehensive treatment program that treats the whole person, not just the addiction. Your encouragement, understanding, and participation in treatment along with your teen is crucial for their recovery.
- Brain in Progress: Why Teens Can’t Always Resist Temptation, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2015 January, Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2015/01/brain-in-progress-why-teens-cant-always-resist-temptation
- Drug Facts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) revised 2012 November, retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction
- New substance abuse treatment resources focusses on teens, National Institutes of Health, 2014 January, Retrieved from http://www.nih.gov/news/health/jan2014/nida-23.htm