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While some teens limit their experimentation to hobbies, trying out for theater and then jumping into basketball instead, other teens begin to experiment with drugs and alcohol. While they may begin this use voluntarily, the changes the brain goes through as a result of the abuse may develop into a drug addiction. In other words, the teen may have control over whether he or she begins using substances, but once that use has taken hold, it can be difficult or impossible for that teen to stop use without help.
Addiction and the Brain
A discussion of addiction must begin with a short anatomy lesson regarding the brain. This organ does more than create memories and help to solve problems. There are portions of the brain that work on a subconscious level, driving a person’s desires, hopes and urges. This limbic system in the brain uses many different sorts of chemicals, but one important chemical is known as dopamine. This neurotransmitter is released in response to, or in anticipation of, a pleasurable event. The scent of soup simmering on the stove, the sound of a loved one’s voice or the feel of grass beneath the feet can all cause dopamine releases. The person may not know why he/she feels so happy, but often, dopamine is the cause of this surge.
Most drugs of abuse tap directly into this pathway. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drugs can cause the brain to release two to 10 times the amount of dopamine, compared to the release it would send in response to standard rewards. The feeling of pleasure can be overwhelming, and hard to forget.
As the abuse continues, the brain begins to adjust to the flood of dopamine by producing less of its own dopamine and/or turning off receptors for dopamine. The brain is attempting to reestablish a balance, but that tweaking can have unintended consequences. Without drugs, the person’s brain is not functioning properly. The person may feel low and sad, irritable and distressed without the drugs. According to an article published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, the brain might respond to the lack of drugs by releasing chemicals associated with stress, trying to push the person back into accessing drugs. The brain has become so adjusted to drugs that it reacts with alarm when those drugs are gone.
The adolescent brain might be more susceptible to these sorts of changes. During adolescence, the brain is growing and changing, building new connections between the midbrain and the forebrain and increasing in bulk and density. As a result, the brain is particularly susceptible to learning new information, and making permanent changes as a result of those lessons. A study published in the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior found that parts of the adolescent brain reacted so strongly to drug abuse that they developed permanent, structural changes that, in the words of the authors, “… in a sense, ‘fix’ the addictive behavior in the adolescent and young adult brain.” Adolescence is a particularly dangerous time for teens to use and abuse substances.
Moving Past Biology
For example, many adults cannot start the day unless they’ve had a cup of coffee in their favorite mug. They may be addicted to the caffeine, of course, but they may also be somewhat addicted to holding a warm and steaming mug between their cold fingers in the morning. The behavior is just as addictive as the substance.
Teens may have all sorts of these habits that reinforce their addictions. A few examples include:
- Their friends. Teens may surround themselves with others who also abuse drugs and alcohol.
- Their social lives. They may go to parties where drugs are taken, or they may habitually skip class to take drugs with friends.
- Their music. Some musicians glamorize a life of drugs and alcohol, and teens may tap into these messages repeatedly.
- Their own daily rituals. Some teens become accustomed to taking drugs at specific times of day, such as when they awaken or before they go to sleep.
All of these habits must also be addressed in order for the teen to truly heal from the addiction.
Signs and Signals
Some parents mistakenly believe that they will “just know” when their teens are abusing substances. They seem to expect a bright, flashing light that will illuminate when the teen begins to go down the wrong path. While this would be ideal, the truth is that addiction in teens can be somewhat tricky to spot. Teens are secretive, and some signs of drug and alcohol abuse can be mistaken for normal teen behavior. For example, the Nemours Foundation provides these signals of addiction in teens:
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Slipping or low grades
- Stealing or selling belongings
- Mood swings
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Weight loss or gain
Any of these signs could easily be explained away and ignored, until the problem has grown so large that it’s simply impossible to ignore. It doesn’t have to be that way. Parents who keep an open dialogue with their teens, and provide help when needed, can spot an addiction problem early and stop it from growing to such extremes. At Teen Rehab, we’d like to help. If you believe your teen has a substance abuse or behavioral issue, we can help you find the right sort of treatment program to help your teen recover. Please contact us today to find out more about the help we can provide.
Unfortunately, of those youth, only 7.2 percent of those needing help for alcohol and 9.1 percent of those needed help for illicit drugs entered treatment programs. These statistics are all provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and it’s quite possible that the numbers would be even more dire if they were run today.
Perhaps if more people knew about the benefits of treatment programs, and how they really can help teens to better understand their addictions and how they can be successfully controlled, more teens would get the help they need. That’s our hope at Teen Rehab. This article will outline the fundamentals of a treatment program for addiction, highlighting the very real successes these programs can bring about in the life of an addicted teen. We hope this information will encourage you to contact us so you can find out more about choosing the right program to help your teen recover.
Providing treatment for a teen substance abuse issue isn’t the same as providing treatment for a cold or the flu. Where a standard illness or infection may start in the same way in all people, and most people respond to treatments in a similar manner, addiction can spring from many different sources, and treatments for addiction that work in one person may not work in another. That’s why treatment planning is so very important.
As part of the treatment plan, experts determine:
- Exactly what substances the teen has taken, and for how long
- Whether or not the teen has a mental health issue, in addition to the addiction
- The overall health of the teen
- How safe the teen feels at home, and whether a support system in the home exists that can help the teen in recovery
- Whether the teen has experienced prior trauma that hasn’t yet been addressed
- How many times the teen has tried to quit in the past, and what happened during those attempts
- Whether the teen has other issues (educational, legal or financial) that must also be addressed
Some of these questions can be answered in standard interviews with the teen and the family, but sometimes, doctors run specific medical tests to check for specific drugs or the presence of other health issues.
Once the planning is complete, the teen and the family will know exactly where the teen will live during treatment, and they will have a specific plan that includes measurable goals and a timeframe for completion. This plan may be adjusted multiple times as the teen moves through therapy, to adjust for any progress the teen makes as treatment moves forward.
An important part of the recovery process involves therapy. By working with a counselor, the teen will learn more about how the addiction works and how the power of the mind can be used to help control the urges that run alongside an addiction issue. While some therapists use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with their teens, in which teens learn to recognize, avoid and cope with specific situations that seem to be linked with drug and alcohol use, this is not the only approach available for teen therapy.
For example, some therapists use a technique known as contingency management with their adolescent patients. Here, the teen is asked to submit periodic urine samples for laboratory testing for drugs. Each time the urine test comes back free of drugs, the teen wins a prize. The prizes get larger each time the teen remains clear of drugs. This technique has been proven remarkably effective in motivating teens to stay engaged in, and involved with, their therapy programs. For example, one study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that teens who received contingency management had lower rates of drug use than teens who did not receive contingency management. This is a result that’s been repeated in other studies as well.
Some therapists include the entire family in the therapy process. These sessions might include all family members at once, or the therapy might take a mix-and-match approach, with some family members attending some meetings while others attend separate sessions. This can be an effective way for the family to improve their communication styles and deal with trauma that has occurred prior to, or as a result of, the addiction the teen has faced.
Effectiveness of Teen Addiction Treatment
In order to understand how effective addiction treatment is, it pays to learn more about the nature of addiction. Whether the problem is in teens or in adults, addiction is considered a chronic illness that tends to come and go with time. In fact, some experts suggest that relapse to addiction is part of the process of healing, as addicts in recovery test the boundaries of that recovery and deal with new problems that they hadn’t addressed in their first round of treatment.
- Medications, if needed
- Touch-up counseling sessions
- Additional inpatient treatment
- Support group sessions
This means that studies of addiction effectiveness that focus solely on abstinence may seem disheartening, but they may just be reflective of the nature of addiction. For example, a study in the journal Addiction found that 53 percent of teens who completed treatment were abstinent or only had a minor lapse in the year following treatment. In other words, more than half of these teens recovered in treatment but others needed more care.
Studies like this don’t indicate that treatment doesn’t “work,” but they do indicate that addiction treatment should address the very real possibility of relapse.
All of these components can help to bolster the lessons the teen learned in rehab treatment, and help to stop the relapse cycle from taking hold and repeating once more.
Learning about the different types of drugs, how they affect you, what it can mean for your body and brain, and hearing about the mistakes that others made can help you to make better choices for yourself – and maybe even help your friends get back on track when they start experimenting with the wrong stuff.
Why would you be interested in learning more about drugs and alcohol? There are a number of different reasons:
- Research papers for school. If you’re studying drug addiction prevention in your health class or learning about brain chemistry and how the body works in biology, you may need to write a paper. Here’s where you can find a ton of resources that will not only connect you with recent statistics and biological information but the latest research studies and their findings.
- To help a family member. If you are living with a parent, caregiver, sibling, or extended family member who abuses drugs or is living with addiction, it can mean a lot of difficulties in your life – and a lot of confusion. Learn more about what they’re going through and what you can do to help here.
- To help yourself. You may have experimented with drugs and alcohol or you may be considering trying a certain substance. You’re smart to take a moment to learn more about the drug before you jump in. Below you’ll find everything you need to know that will help you decide whether or not it’s a risk worth taking.
- To help a friend. If you are worried about a friend’s choice to abuse drugs and alcohol, you can find out more about the dangers they are facing here. You can also find resources to help them get addiction treatment and ask for help if they need it.
- To find treatment. If you are in need of drug abuse treatment and you don’t know where else to turn, you and your parents can check out some of the resources we have available that can help the entire family to heal after drug addiction. Figuring out what addiction treatment services you need is the first step and locating the ones that are right for you is next. You may need your parents help on this one, but if they have any questions, they can contact one of our counselors at the phone number listed above and learn more about how we can connect you with a program that can help teens heal from drug addiction.
No matter why you’re looking for solid resources on different drugs and alcohol, we’ve got you covered. Check out the links we’ve provided below.
Educational Resources for Teens
- NIDA for Teens: Facts on Drugs. Here you’ll find fact sheets on everything from specific drugs and how they affect the body to information about the effects of addiction on the brain, HIV and more.
- American Council for Drug Education: Facts for Youth. The ACDE offers a “Got the Smarts?” knowledge quiz, a plethora of links, and a page of drug fact sheets on a number of different substances.
- Above the Influence. AbovetheInfluence.com offers lists of drug facts as well as resources to help a friend you think has a problem with drugs or alcohol, and information that will help you live “above the influence” by choosing not to use any illicit substances. They also have video diaries from kids and the latest news stories about teens and addiction.
- Monitoring the Future. Want to know how many 8th graders, 10th graders, and high school seniors are using drugs, which kinds, and how often? Conducted at the Survey Research Center in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, this survey is done annually and checks in with teens across the country to find out what their perceptions and interactions are with drugs and alcohol.
- Teens Health. This site answers questions about the definition of substance abuse and addiction, and offers a number of pages that get into the specifics of different substances and how they affect the body, including steroids, alcohol, marijuana, prescription painkillers and more.
- ReachOut.com. Real stories from other teens about their experience with drugs and alcohol, the facts on illicit substance abuse, and interactive opportunities to voice your own opinions and needs are available on this site designed just for teens.
- Go Ask Alice! This resource extends beyond just drugs and alcohol and helps teens to understand a wide range of subjects that are important to their health and well-being. If you can’t find the answer to your question in the Q&A library, you can submit it to them to get the help you need.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Find out everything you need to know about alcohol and how to resist peer pressure. Get tons of details on alcohol and its effects, then learn about peer pressure – what it is, how it hits you, and how to avoid getting sucked into bad decision making.
- Check Yourself. Do you have a problem with drugs and alcohol? Are you in control of your life and your decisions? The Partnership at DrugFree.org has set up this site to include a number of quizzes that help teens identify their potential for developing a problem with drugs and alcohol.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: STOP Underage Drinking. This page has links to a bunch of different resources that help teens understand how dangerous it is to drink and drive and the effects of just one drink on the brain’s ability to function quickly in an emergency situation behind the wheel.
- Too Smart to Start. The teen-specific part of the site helps to educate teens on why it’s important to avoid even casual experimentation with alcohol and provides access to other resources as well.
Medical Resources for Teens
- Drug Overdose Information. If someone you know overdoses on drugs or alcohol, it’s important to act quickly. Here teens can find the information they need to react appropriately and help save someone’s life.
- American Association of Poison Control Centers. Teens can call this hotline 24 hours a day if they have any questions about a substance a friend has ingested.
- American Society of Addiction Medicine. Here you can find all the treatment information you need: what you should look for, the approved protocols and the standards for today’s teen rehabilitation treatment.
- Society for Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment Effectiveness. Researchers, providers, evaluators and policymakers pool their knowledge to make teen rehab more effective.
- Love First. If the goal is teen intervention, this site can help you get the information you need.
- Medline Plus. Medline Plus offers an extensive library of information on specific drugs of abuse, and each page has links to resources for medical help and treatment as well as pages designed just for parents and teens.
- University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center. This website offers a number of interesting articles and links to learn more about the science of addiction and the medical effects of different drugs of abuse.
- National Inhalant Prevention Coalition. If inhalant abuse is a concern, this site provides a great deal of information about the medical issues that can occur and how to get help.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Tons of science-based information on the effects of drugs and the treatment of addiction are available here.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Learn everything you need to know about the effects of alcohol on teens, teen rehabilitation and medical treatment, and get the latest in medical research.
Resources for Parents of Teens
- NIDA for Teens Resources for Parents and Teachers. This page includes links to a number of articles written for parents so they can identify and understand the different drugs that their teens might be using. A Teacher’s Resource Guide is included.
- National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. The White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy sponsors a targeted drug prevention campaign designed to help teens avoid falling into the trap of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction. Parents can explore the site and keep up with the blog to find out the latest news about the campaign as well as the information it gleans from research and data about our nation’s youth and their perceptions about drugs and addiction.
- American Council on Drug Education: Facts for Parents. Here, parents can get tips on how to talk to their teen about drugs, learn more about how drug use affects pregnancy, discover the symptoms associated with different drugs of abuse, and find out basic facts about a number of different substances.
- ParentCentral.net. Parents looking to connect with other parents who have had similar experiences with teen drug and alcohol addiction can do that here.
- Berkeley Parents Network. Here parents can find the answers to questions about teens and drug abuse. There is also a page that focuses on teens and drinking as well as pages on a number of other substances.
- Prevention-Smart Parents. This online learning aid provides parents with the information they need to help stop their teens from abusing drugs.
- Colorado State University: Adolescent Alcohol and Drug Abuse. Here you will find an extensive article on how teen drug abuse affects the family, the different roles that family members play in active addiction, and how the whole family can come together to heal.
- The Partnership at DrugFree.org. Get answers to questions like “Where Can I Learn About Finding Treatment for My Child?” and “What Should I Do If My Child Needs Help for a Drug or Alcohol Problem?”
- Too Smart to Start. According to the site, 10 million young people drink. This site seeks to help parents, educators and others in the community work together to help teens avoid the pitfalls that come with teen drinking.
- Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The organization’s Power of Parents site provides resources that address a number of different situations that can occur when a teen abuses drugs and alcohol. A handbook for parents is available.
Counseling Resources for Teens
- National Association for Children of Alcoholics. This resource offers assistance to those who are seeking support in dealing with the effects of living with a parent who has an addiction. It also offers a list of suggestions that help teens and kids figure out how to handle it when they are living with an addicted parent as well as resources on learning how to deal with their own drug and alcohol problem.
- Alateen. This is a 12-step group for teens who are living with or love someone who has a drug or alcohol problem. At these meetings, you can find the support of others in the same situation and a sponsor who can help you work through your issues – including your own struggles with drugs and alcohol.
- Office of National Drug Control Policy. Here, you can learn everything you need to know about what should be included in an effective drug addiction treatment program, including specialized treatment programs and the importance of early intervention.
- Rational Recovery. The entire family can find the help they need to heal after a teen’s drug abuse through the support of a community and regular meetings that help you to recognize – and fight – the “Addictive Voice.”
- Teen Anon. The 12 steps have been proven extremely effective in the last century and Teen Anon is the teen version of that program, providing teenagers with a safe space to share their experience with drugs and alcohol as well as their struggles with recovery. It’s just for teens and those who love them.
- Adolescent Online Smoking Cessation Program. Called ASPIRE, this program helps teens to quit smoking cigarettes and is sponsored by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The site experience can be modified for gender and language preference.
- Center on Addiction and the Family. This resource is focused on helping kids deal with addiction in their families and understand that the choices of others are not a reflection on them or their fault in any way – a huge step in the healing process. Teens who have developed their own addiction issues in response can also find counseling assistance here.
- TeenCentral.net. Find hotlines to connect with someone 24 hours a day when you are struggling with issues of drug and alcohol addiction.