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Teens and Addiction

Experimenting and curiosity are among the hallmarks of the teen years that sometimes lead to trouble (like drug/alcohol abuse, gambling, and involvement in gangs). Adolescence is a time of firsts: first love, first cigar, first drink, first out-of-town trip without parents, etc.

Essentially, adolescence is marked by major physical, behavioral, and emotional changes. While their body and brain are transitioning from childhood and adapting to adulthood, it’s highly likely that your teen may pick up a few habits along the way that aren’t helpful. Experimenting with drugs/alcohol is often part of this journey. Needless to say, it’s a complicated time for teens and their families. While parents should affirm and maintain values and encourage teens to stay within safe boundaries, young people should be encouraged to maintain contact with the outside world.

There are numerous reasons why teens turn to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or gambling. They can be a means to simply relax or to deal with problems, simply for curiosity or for social reasons. No matter the reason, this behavior isn’t uncommon among teens, but it’s necessary to know how to recognize addiction.

Addiction means an individual has no control over whether they drink or use drugs. Someone who’s addicted to cocaine has grown so used to the drug that they HAVE to have it. Addiction can be psychological, physical, or both.

Psychological Addiction

This happens when the cravings are emotional or psychological. People who are psychologically addicted feel overpowered by the desire to have a drug that they may steal or lie to get it.

Physical Addiction

This means a person’s body becomes dependent on a particular substance (even cigar is physically addictive). Physical addiction also means one has built tolerance to the substance that they need a larger dose than before just to get the same effects.

A person can proceed through 5 progressively serious stages of substance use very swiftly:

Experimental use –when trying to see what it’s like

Recreational use –when liking to use it and continuing to do so for random enjoyment

Excessive use –when enjoyment leads to intentional/accidental excess

Abusive use –when substance use causes significant harm to user

Addictive use –when there’s regretful awareness of the harm but the person cannot stop using it

A person has crossed the line between abuse and addiction when they’re no longer trying the drug for fun or to get high, but has come to depend on it. Their time and energy center around the need for the drug/substance. An addicted person feels there’s no more choice in taking a substance.

Warning Signs of an Addiction:

  • Eating disorders/changes in eating habits (weight loss or gain)

  • Low grades

  • Inactivity

  • Frequent mood swings

  • Increased absenteeism in school

  • Neglecting hygiene & appearance

  • Opposition to discipline

  • Change of friends/friendships

  • Deterioration of family relationships

  • Lack of motivation

  • Constant need for money

  • Aggressive/violent behavior

  • Keeping secrets/withdrawal from family/friends

  • Loss of interest in activities that used to be important

  • Failed attempts to stop drinking/taking drugs/smoking/gambling

  • Feeling shaky or sick when trying to stop substance use

  • Anxiety or depression

  • Changes in sleeping habits

The most at risk

There are a few factors that can help identify persons who are most vulnerable to developing an addiction -although the presence of a risk factor doesn’t automatically mean that an addiction issue will occur. Here are a few factors:

  • Chaotic family environment

  • Ties to a gang

  • Family history of addiction issues

  • Having friends who have positive attitude towards drugs

  • Learning difficulties

  • Mental health issues (i.e. severe anxiety, depression)

  • Low self-esteem

  • Impulsive behavior

Overcoming addiction is not easy. Quitting smoking, drinking, or dugs is probably going to be one of the hardest things one can ever do. But be very clear that needing professional help from a therapist or a trained drug counselor is NOT a sign of weakness. Most people who are trying to kick an alcohol/drug problem need a treatment program or professional intervention to do so. Feel free to contact Jarvis Hypnotherapy for a consultation if you need help quitting substance use.

Helping a friend with addiction

If you’re worried about a friend who has an addiction, use these tips to help them:

  1. Let them know you’re available to talk or offer your support

  2. If a friend who’s gone through treatment and is slipping, talk about it openly and ask what you can do to help

  3. If they’re going back to drugs/drinking and refuse to accept your help, don’t hesitate to talk to an understanding & nonthreatening adult ( counselor or parent).

  4. Offer your friend your unwavering understanding & lots of encouragements

It’s important to recognize that adolescence is a transition period between childhood and adulthood. It’s a time of highs and lows and numerous “firsts”. For parents with teens, you’ve done very well in teaching them to eat, speak, and walk as a child. It would be great to continue helping them along in embracing healthy attitudes and behaviors in adolescence.

Once the teen crises had passed, you will be proud of having invested time and energy into their wellbeing. And when they become an independent and accomplished adult, they’ll most likely thank you for your time, care, and support.

If you currently have a teen who’s having substance problem, the therapist at Jarvis Hypnotherapy has the tools and expertise to help you.



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