Hello, parents! I am a Licensed Marriage and Family therapist (LMFT) who specializes in helping teens and families navigate mental and behavioral health challenges. In light of a frequent presenting problem I see in my office, I wanted to take some time to shed light on an important topic that concerns many families: addiction and substance use in teens. In this blog, we’ll explore the signs to look out for and discuss treatment options. Remember, knowledge is power, and together we can support teen mental well-being!
Adolescence is a critical period of development, and it’s not uncommon for teenagers to experiment with various substances including but not limited to: alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine. Learning that your teen may be using substances can be a scary discovery as a parent, however, it’s important to differentiate between experimentation and addiction. This is because the modality of treatment can differ based on the underlying function of behavior; to satisfy addictive impulses vs. to numb, experiment, and use socially. Further, experimentation has the potential to develop into an addiction and thus early intervention is important.
What is an addiction?
Addiction is a chronic disease that affects the brain, leading to compulsive drug-seeking behavior despite negative consequences. Addictions can also include behavioral “drugs,” such as gambling, gaming, food, or social media, to name a few. The warning signs and treatment options for substance-based vs. behavioral addictions can overlap, however for the purposes of this blog, we will continue to focus specifically on substance use.
Understanding the Signs:
Recognizing the signs of addiction and substance use in teens can be challenging. However, being aware of the following indicators can help you intervene early:
- Behavioral Changes: Keep an eye out for sudden shifts in your teen’s behavior, such as increased secrecy, withdrawal from family and friends, or a decline in academic performance. Also, if a teenager starts neglecting their responsibilities at home or work, it could be a sign of addiction.
- Physical Symptoms: Notice any unexplained weight loss or gain, bloodshot eyes, frequent nosebleeds, decrease in personal hygiene, or changes in sleep patterns. These could be potential signs of substance use.
- Emotional Instability: Teens struggling with addiction may exhibit mood swings, irritability, anxiety, or depression. Pay attention to any drastic changes in their emotional well-being.
- Financial issues: Frequent requests for money without a valid reason or stealing money from family members may indicate substance use.
- Social isolation: Teens struggling with addiction often isolate themselves from their usual social circles and engage in new, potentially risky friendships.
If you suspect your teen is struggling with addiction or substance use, it’s crucial to seek professional help. Here are some treatment options to consider:
- Therapy: Individual, family, or group therapy can provide a safe and supportive space for your teen to explore the underlying causes of their substance use and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
- Inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation programs: Depending on the severity of the addiction, a teenager may benefit from either an inpatient program, where they receive therapy services while residing at a treatment facility, or an outpatient program, where they attend therapy sessions while still being able to live at home.
- Support Groups: Encourage your teen to join community support groups where they can connect with peers facing similar challenges. These groups can help offer a sense of belonging and understanding.
- Medication-Assisted Treatment: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage withdrawal symptoms or reduce cravings. Consult a healthcare professional to determine if this is a suitable option.
- Family Involvement: Remember, you are an essential part of your teen’s recovery journey. Participating in family therapy sessions can foster open communication, understanding, and support.
Prevention and Open Dialogue:
Prevention, when possible, is always the best option. To promote a healthy lifestyle and reduce the risk of addiction, consider the following:
- Educate Yourself: Stay informed about the dangers of substance use and addiction. Knowledge empowers you to have meaningful conversations with your teen.
- Foster Open Communication: Create a safe and non-judgmental environment where your teen feels comfortable discussing their thoughts, concerns, and experiences.
- Set Clear Expectations: Establish boundaries and rules regarding substance use. Clearly communicate your expectations and consequences, ensuring your teen understands the potential risks involved.
By recognizing the signs of addiction, seeking appropriate treatment, and fostering open dialogue, you can help your teen along their mental health and well-being journey. Remember, early intervention can make a significant difference in their journey towards a healthier and brighter future.
Here at Outside the Norm Counseling, we are here to help. We can support you by providing an assessment of your child’s needs, and working with you to develop an effective plan of action. We can provide you with additional information and help guide you through the prevention or recovery processes. Remember, you are not alone.
Contact us today, and together, let’s create a nurturing environment for your teens to thrive.