Learning that your teenager is abusing drugs or alcohol is a stressful and confusing time. Stressful, because of the inherent dangers of teen addiction. And confusing, because you don’t know what you’re supposed to do about it. Teenage addiction is TERRIFYING for parents.
To help eliminate some of that confusion, here are some answers to the questions most frequently asked by parents about teen addiction and recovery.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is a disease of the brain. It is characterized by compulsive and continual drug-seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.
Addiction is chronic – this means it is recurring and can “flare up” at any time, without warning.
And, it is also progressive – this means that the disease will ALWAYS get worse, unless the addicted substance abuser receives timely and effective treatment. Left untreated, permanent damage – and even death – may be the outcome.
How Can Addiction Be Cured?
It can’t. The disease of addiction is incurable. Regular substance abuse causes permanent changes within the brain. Even people in “successful” recovery are vulnerable to relapse.
But addiction can be MANAGED, similarly to other chronic/incurable diseases. With proper treatment, committed lifestyle changes, and hard work, the progression of the disease can be stopped and the addict/alcoholic can usually return to a normal, productive, and fulfilling life.
For comparison, such chronic diseases as hypertension and diabetes can be largely controlled by changes in diet, regular exercise, weight loss, and medication.
Likewise, addiction can be managed by avoiding intoxicating or habit-forming substances, stress reduction, counseling/support, and medication.
What is the Cause of Addiction?
Addiction does not have ONE single cause; rather, the development of the disorders is influenced by multiple factors:
- Genetics – the largest individual factor, accounting for up to 50% of the risk
- Childhood Exposure – family history, age of initiation of use, etc.
- Co-Occurring Mental Disorders – depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc.
- Trauma – witnessing or experiencing violence or abuse
- Environment – societal acceptance, availability, peer pressure
- Personal Habits – heavy substance use, binge-drinking, substance of choice
However, personal habits play the biggest controllable role. It begins when a person starts drinking or taking drugs voluntarily for the pleasurable effects. But long-term or heavy alcohol/drug use creates physical and chemical changes within the user’s brain – warping impulse control and the decision-making process, and creating the physical dependence that causes drug cravings.
What Are Some of the Signs of Teenage Addiction?
Substance abuse disorders manifest as changes in personality and behavior:
- Blackouts – The inability to remember where they’ve been or what they’ve done
- Problems at school – Poor grades, absenteeism, disciplinary problems
- Changes in appearance/grooming – poor hygiene, dirty clothes, rapid weight loss/gain, sores on the skin, unhealthy color
- Mood swings – Overly-friendly and energetic one moment, irritable and lethargic the next
- Drastic changes in sleeping patterns – Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Social withdrawal – Loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities, neglecting family occasions, avoiding friends who don’t drink/use
- Secretive behavior – Spending their time locked in their room, hiding phone calls or messages, concealing their whereabouts and activities
- Missing money or valuables around the house
- Paraphernalia – syringes, pipes, rolling papers, empty liquor/pill bottles, etc.
How Is a Medical Diagnosis of Addiction Made?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, distributed by the American Psychiatric Association, says that a Substance Abuse Disorder diagnosis may be appropriate when the patient demonstrates three or more of the following symptoms:
- Tolerance – the need for greater amounts of the substance to get the same effect
- Loss of Control – the inability to regulate how/how frequently they drink or use
- Failed Attempts to Quit/Cut Back
- Large Amounts of Time Spent Thinking about, Acquiring, Using, or Recovering from Usage
- Abandoning Other Interests/Responsibilities
- Continuing to Use in Spite of Negative Consequences
- Withdrawal – Uncomfortable/painful – or even dangerous – psychological or physical symptoms shortly after usage is discontinued
Why Can’t My Teenager Just STOP?
Your teenager did not become addicted by choice, and their illness is not the result of a lack of character or willpower. Addiction means they are UNABLE to stop using on their own.
What Is an Intervention?
An intervention is structured confrontation between the substance abuser and their close friends and family members. The main goal of an intervention is to convince/compel that person to get professional help for their disease. Although the parents of addicted teenagers can make the sole decision to place their child in a treatment program, it is more desirable to convince the teen to enter treatment voluntarily.
Because of the powerful emotions and dysfunction brought forth by addiction, many families choose to avail themselves of the services of a professional interventionist, to help plan and moderate the intervention.
What Are the Different Types of Teenage Addiction Recovery Programs?
Depending upon the severity of the illness, there are different levels of treatment, varying in length and intensity:
- Alcohol/Drug Detoxification
- Outpatient/Intensive Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment
- Residential, or Inpatient Substance Abuse Rehabilitation
- Sober Living
- Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
- Long-Term Aftercare/Support
- 12-Step Meetings
What is “Detox”?
A detoxification is when the individual abstains (willingly or not) from substance use, and their body purges itself of that substance. The main purpose of a detox is to begin breaking free from a physical dependence on drugs and/or alcohol.
Typically, newly-abstaining substance abusers experience withdrawal, characterized by a combination of symptoms:
- Mood swings
- Overwhelming cravings
- Stomach cramps/Diarrhea
- Chills, alternating with profuse sweating
- Muscle aches
- Flu-like symptoms
Most withdrawal symptoms are not particularly dangerous, with the definite exception of withdrawal from benzodiazepine-class medications or alcohol. The abrupt cessation of either substance is potentially fatal.
Any attempt to stop drinking or using benzodiazepine tranquilizers should ONLY be done under close medical supervision.
How Long is Teenage Addiction Recovery?
Treatment should be tailored to the individual, so the time spent in a recovery program can vary widely. As a VERY general rule-of-thumb, here are the approximate lengths of some of the different levels of treatment:
- Detox – A few days to 2-3 weeks, depending upon on the person’s drug history.
- Inpatient rehab – 30 days to several months.
- Outpatient treatment – 3-6 months.
- Sober living – A MINIMUM of 6 months
- 12-Step meetings – Recommended 90 meetings in the first 90 days of sobriety, and as-needed moving forward
Professional opinion holds that treatment services need to last a minimum of 90 days—in any combination—to be effective. An article published in the Los Angeles Times found that the rates of first-year relapse among individuals who stayed in treatment 90 days-plus is half that of people who left treatment sooner.
How Do I Know Which Teenage Addiction Treatment Services Are Right for MY Child?
If your teenager is struggling with any sort of substance abuse or emotional disorder, then you first need to talk with a professional – your family physician, a therapist, or an accredited local treatment facility. With one phone call, you prompt the help your family needs.
For over 35 years, Teensavers Treatment Centers has been one of the most-reputable teen drug and alcohol rehab programs in Orange County, California. By adopting a uniquely-focused approach that address your child’s special needs as a teenager, Teensavers is now the go-to resource for families battling the disease of addiction.