Addiction can happen at any age, but it usually starts when a person is young. If your teen continues to use drugs despite harmful consequences, he or she may be addicted.
If an adolescent starts behaving differently for no apparent reason––such as acting withdrawn, frequently tired or depressed, or hostile—it could be a sign he or she is developing a drug-related problem. Parents and others may overlook such signs, believing them to be a normal part of puberty. Other signs include:
- A change in peer group
- Carelessness with grooming
- Decline in academic performance
- Missing classes or skipping school
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
- Trouble in school or with the law
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Deteriorating relationships with family members and friends
Through scientific advances, we know more than ever before about how drugs work in the brain. We also know that addiction can be successfully treated to help young people stop abusing drugs and lead productive lives. Intervening early when you first spot signs of drug use in your teen is critical; don’t wait for your teen to become addicted before you seek help. However, if a teen is addicted, treatment is the next step.
Why can’t some teens stop using drugs on their own?
Repeated drug use changes the brain. Brain-imaging studies of people with drug addictions show changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning and memory, and behavior control. Quitting is difficult, even for those who feel ready. NIDA has an excellent video that explains why drugs are so hard to quit:
It could be helpful to show your teen this video. It helps explain why the inability to stop using drugs is not a moral failing, but rather an illness that needs to be treated.
If I want help for my teen or young adult, where do I start?
Asking for help from professionals is the first important step.
You can start by bringing your child to a doctor who can screen for signs of drug use and other related health conditions. You might want to ask your child’s doctor in advance if he or she is comfortable screening for drug use with standard assessment tools and making a referral to an appropriate treatment provider. If not, ask for a referral to another doctor skilled in these issues.
You can also contact an addiction specialist directly. There are 3,500 board certified physicians who specialize in addiction in the United States. The American Society of Addiction Medicine Web site has a Find a Physician feature on its home page, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has a “Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Finder” on its Web site. you and the physician can decide if your teen or young adult should be referred to treatment.
It takes a lot of courage to seek help for a child with a possible drug problem, because there is a lot of hard work ahead for both of you, and it interrupts academic, personal and possibly athletic milestones expected during the teen years. However, treatment works, and teens can recover from addiction, although it may take time and patience. Treatment enables young people to counteract addiction’s powerful disruptive effects on their brain and behavior so they can regain control of their lives. You want to be sure your teen is healthy before venturing into the world with more independence, and where drugs are more easily available.
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