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Substance Abuse

A Parent’s Guide to Relapse Prevention During the Holidays

The holidays are some of the most stressful weeks of the year, as families come together to prepare for big dinners, long interstate trips, parties, and shopping sprees. Along with all that stress come the joy and gratitude of long-time family traditions, the yuletide spirit, and for many, more than a fair share of indulgences. 

This makes the holidays a dangerous time for many adults and teens struggling to avoid relapses. The stress, resurgence of old memories, promise of confrontation with loved ones, and availability of unhealthy drinks and food can compromise someone trying to stay on the path toward recovery. 

But for most of us, skipping the holidays is neither an option nor is it the right answer. There’s a lot to love and cherish in these rare moments where we all come together to reflect on a year of hardships, lessons, and growth. 

If your teen has a history of addiction, they will need to learn to build resilience in the face of the stressors that are most likely to make them drink or use again – and just as importantly, learn when and where to ask for help and support in their time of need.  

In this article, we’re exploring a few ways for parents to encourage relapse prevention during the holidays.

Identify Common Triggers

Everyone has specific stressors that drive them to a point of no return – or close enough to the edge to teeter on it. Cravings aside, identifying and reducing triggers over the holidays can be one way to help minimize stress. 

This might mean banning alcohol for this year, avoiding parties or get-togethers where drinking will be normal, encouraged, or expected, and working with your teen to identify memories, scents, activities, or people that might strongly affect or challenge their sobriety. 

In some cases, it’s best to avoid these triggers. In other cases, it’s better to work on coping strategies that help your teen minimize the risk of relapse in the face of an inevitable trigger – and to help them recontextualize that trigger and strengthen their recovery. 

If your teen is or was in treatment, it might also be a good idea to work with their therapist on this task. Every person’s story of addiction is unique and requires a unique approach. 

Aside from individualized triggers, try to help your teen identify and verbalize the more common and mundane triggers for a relapse – things like hunger, boredom, anger, irritability, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and fatigue. Stress the importance of taking care of oneself, and looking after one’s needs. 

Minimize the Unexpected

Aside from accounting for triggers and helping your teen reduce their impact, it’s also important to preserve some consistency over the holidays. Try to create a schedule of what’s to come in the following days and weeks, and help your teen prepare for the preparations and events to come. 

On the other hand, while preparing for the holidays with your teens, work with them to preserve their schedules. Avoid letting the holidays get their sleep schedules out of whack by encouraging everyone to get a good night’s sleep each day. 

Balance out the cake and gluttony of holiday cooking with a few healthy meals between events, plenty of protein and vegetables, fiber, and lots of water. Help your teen remember their medication (and supplements like vitamin D, if they take any), and exercise with them. 

Don’t let the holidays become an excuse to skip important routine elements or fall out of rhythm. They might not be going to school or work, but they can still take the time to invest in their recovery and their physical and mental health

Help Your Teen Identify and Set Boundaries

There are limits to a person’s energy and capacity to engage with others during recovery. Going through recovery leaves you with less energy than before, alongside a more fragile mental state, and a lower tolerance for anxiety. 

It takes time for these tolerances to return to normal, and it’s always possible that they might never be quite as high as they once were. That’s okay. 

We all change as we grow, and going through addiction and recovery can drastically develop a person’s identity and personality. It’s during this time that your teen might need help understanding and figuring out what they can and can’t handle, and they may need someone around to help them communicate when they need to leave or take time for themselves. 

Be an advocate for your teen during the holidays, give them an out during parties or get-togethers, tell them to call you the moment they want to leave, and be sure they’re always with a sober friend who can help them avoid certain choices, and keep them honest. 

Balance Holiday Meals with Good Nutrition

The importance of good nutrition during recovery cannot be stressed enough. Recovery is more than therapy and medication, or time spent away from drugs. You need to give your body what it needs to heal both mentally and physically, and food is an important part of that. 

However, it can be very difficult to balance a healthy diet with the typical treats and overindulgences of the holidays. Be a role model with your own choices, and support your teen’s needs throughout the coming days and weeks. Help them keep on top of their daily intake.

It’s a Long Process

It’s important never to forget that recovery, as a whole, takes years. Teens with a young history of addiction tend to have struggled with both chemical influence and severe emotional trauma at a formative and young age, which can have a major impact on their health and future. 

A successful recovery process helps them cope with the aftermath of their addiction as they mature into adulthood, and prepares them for the stressors of life in spite of their cravings and thoughts. 

They need your strength as much as they need their own. Friends and family become important elements of a crucial social safety net as teens go through recovery, and fight back against their addiction.

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Substance Abuse

How to Talk to Your Teenager About Drugs

The history of the war on drugs has taught us much about all the wrong ways to approach the topic of addiction, both at home and at large. Addiction is no simple thing, and aside from being a difficult topic to approach, it is a very difficult thing to fight, especially without compassion or tolerance. 

Paving the path towards understanding is important if you want your teens to have a healthier relationship with the concepts of substance use, and mental health in general. 

Be Honest, Be Informative

Nothing hurts your teen’s trust more than editorializing the truth. It’s natural for a parent to wish to demonize drugs and drug use, but if a teen feels like their parents are leaving out or exacerbating certain pieces of information, they might feel skeptical about everything else they’ve been told by figures of authority. 

Kids who grew up hearing all about how drugs can instantly mess up a person’s brain might feel lied to when they see a coherent friend of theirs use a dangerous drug. Likewise, not knowing anything about the short- and long-term effects of drug use can be a powerful risk factor for addiction. 

Information is crucially important. Regardless of whether your teenager has or hasn’t tried drugs before, consider having multiple conversations with them about your potential family history with addiction and mental health, about the effects of drug use, about your own experiences with substances both legal and illegal, about regrets and misunderstandings, and about the facts of both short-term and long-term use – and the deleterious consequences of substance use, whether recreationally, for self-medication, or out of sheer curiosity.

Teenagers have unrestricted access to a treasure trove of information – and misinformation. Teach them to navigate the internet and double-check their facts, read citations, and identify scientific sources. 

Questionable substances, including marijuana, ketamine, and MDMA, play important roles in medical research and have been studied for efficacious use for years. But there’s just as much, if not more evidence showing the deleterious side of these substances, and why their unregulated and unsupervised use can lead to a decline in physical and mental health. 

Ask Questions and Listen

As kids get older, they appreciate being talked down to less and less. Teens are more likely to respond to a conversation that treats them like an adult. 

This can be annoying for some parents, but it provides others with a crucial avenue to discuss important topics with the understanding that a teen can and will shape their own opinions, seek information on their own time, and may disagree with you in several ways. 

Embrace opportunities to find out what your teen might know or think about these substances and utilize them as chances to challenge these beliefs with a wealth of medical information, and nuanced opinions. 

Do Not Underestimate Your Influence

As teens grow older and more distant from their parents, it’s easy to feel like all hope is lost, and your positive influence on your child is continuously waning. But it’s important to recognize that this isn’t entirely true. 

Even if your teen isn’t in the mood to talk to you, they still consciously or subconsciously respect you a lot more than you might expect. Parental influence is a much more powerful protective (and risk) factor in addiction, more so than peer influence. 

Your teens are more likely to mirror your attitude and behavior towards drugs than anything else, and are more likely to avoid drug use if your values and ethics don’t support it. 

But there is an important caveat in this, as it predicates on the idea that your teen has a good relationship with you. Parental influence wanes the strongest not with age, but with toxic or abrasive parenting styles. Authoritarian parents will have a harder time “controlling” their child despite their best efforts, versus firm, but more lax parenting approaches, such as the authoritative parent. 

Recognizing When It’s Time to Intervene

Teenagers make mistakes. They do things they shouldn’t, sometimes even on a fairly regular basis. They rarely, if ever, think things through, and a big part of growing up involves learning from the copious mistakes you make during adolescence. 

But there is a time and place when a parent’s intervention is important, and even necessary. While the number of teens who are addicted to drugs is less than the number of teens who have experimented with them, it’s likely not an insignificant statistic nonetheless. 

Teenagers are more likely to struggle with addiction after trying an addictive drug for the first time than their older peers, and as with most things, treating an addiction as soon as possible improves the chances of recovery. 

But when does a teen’s habit take the plunge towards a dangerous substance use disorder? The answer depends entirely on your teen’s behavior. Drug addiction generally sets itself apart from first-time use or curious experimentation by way of several key signs and symptoms

  • Sudden and drastic changes in behavior
  • Irritability and irrational thinking
  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness or oversleeping
  • Stark shifts in appetite
  • Relationship problems
  • Trouble with friends
  • Rapid decline in grades
  • Lying about stopping
  • Hiding drug paraphernalia or alcohol
  • Exacerbated mental health issues (if they have a concurrent diagnosis)
  • And more

If any or several of these issues apply to your teen, then it may be worth approaching the idea of seeking professional help together. If you think your teen would not be very receptive to the idea of visiting a therapist or professional, your best bet may be to schedule an appointment with a professional yourself and discuss options for an intervention. 

Don’t give up on the idea that you’re a major influence on your child’s life. While it can be incredibly difficult to get through to a stubborn teenager, especially one that’s struggling with an inner battle of this caliber, constant support and vigilance are key to helping teens fight against addiction, and work on putting themselves on the long road of recovery.

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Substance Abuse

The Dangers of Substance Abuse Among Teens

It is a well-known fact that substance abuse among teens can result in many negative health effects. The dangers of substance abuse among teens are such that it should be the focus of attention for every parent and educator.

The article will explore the various risks associated with substance abuse among teens as well as what we can do to help reduce them to ensure a healthy future for your teenager.

The Health Risks of Substance Abuse Among Teens

Substance abuse can cause serious health risks for everyone. However, substance abuse among teens can result in even greater health risks because substance abuse can interfere with the development of a teen’s brain. This means that substance abuse among teens has the potential to prevent healthy brain growth and function, which can have an impact on overall physical as well as mental health.

In addition to developmental issues, substance abuse can also result in substance use disorders and addiction, substance withdrawal symptoms, and substance overdose.

All of these substance abuse risks can adversely affect a teen’s ability to lead a healthy and productive life.

While substance abuse among teens has decreased overall for this generation, there’s still been an upward trend among teens in the last few years. Today’s youth might be less inclined to drink or smoke than their parents, but the numbers aren’t anything to sneeze at either, with vaping, cigarette use, alcohol, and all illicit drugs seeing a major rise in usage between 2019 and 2020. 

Over two-thirds have reportedly had a drink by the 12th grade, and up to half of the students between grades 9 and 12 have tried marijuana before graduation. Even more egregious is prescription medication misuse, which roughly every two in ten 12th graders admit to. 

But we know that trying a drug out and struggling with substance abuse are two very different situations. Nevertheless, teens are more susceptible to the effects of addictive drugs and are statistically more likely to develop a substance use disorder after early first use than older adults – making even simple experimentation a very risky thing. 

Regardless of age and substance, drug use is a scary topic for many parents and caregivers. 

It isn’t enough to demonize drugs or repeat the same talking points to teens when trying to prevent drug use, though. There are clear ways to reduce the harm and likelihood of a substance use disorder in most cases and educating teens on the real effects of substance abuse is just one of these ways. 

How Common is Substance Abuse Among Teens?

It’s very difficult to gauge substance abuse on a statistical level, versus illegal substance use. Teens, in general, aren’t allowed to smoke or drink and illicit prescription drug use applies to all ages. But the line between trying a drug and becoming addicted is blurry and individual. 

The methodology used to gather data on teenage drug use doesn’t always allow for a clear picture of whether a surveyed teen is struggling with a substance use disorder, either. 

But what we can gather from the information pooled over decades of research is that teen drug use is rising following the beginning of the pandemic and that teens are struggling with other mental health issues more than ever. 

Our youth are greatly at risk as a result of these increases and continue to struggle in the absence of the necessary psychiatric healthcare resources needed to address these issues. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t take matters into your own hands. There are ways to seek help for your teen, including inpatient and outpatient treatment programs, long-term recovery plans, medication, and therapy. Understanding the factors that might have contributed to a person’s drug use also goes a long way towards helping them in recovery. 

Increased Risk for Mental Health Issues

Teenagers who abuse drugs or alcohol have a higher risk of developing mental health issues, including substance use disorders and substance addiction.

According to substanceabuse.com substance abuse can lead to substance use disorders in teens if substance abuse continues over time. This means that substance abuse among teens poses the risk of substance addiction, which is characterized by long-term substance cravings even after substance dependence has been diagnosed.

Many teenagers who are addicted to substance abuse go on to develop substance use disorders. This means that substance addiction among teens can result in substance use disorders if substance abuse continues over time.

If a teenager is turning to substance abuse as a means of self-medication for an existing mental health disorder, including depression or anxiety, the teen is at risk of developing a co-occurring disorder.

Substance abuse can lead not only to substance use disorders and substance addiction but also to behavioral problems, including lack of motivation, acts of violence, and mood disorders.

In fact, substance abuse among teens can increase their risk of substance-related problems in adulthood by up to five times. In addition, substance abuse has been linked with an increased risk for antisocial personality disorder or other substance use disorders by up to ten times.

Higher Risk for Physical Injuries and Violence

Substance abuse among teens can result in a higher risk of physical injuries and violence. Substance abuse can lead to an increased risk of substance-related injuries, including motor vehicle accidents, falls and unintentional injuries, burns, and substance-related violence.

This is particularly dangerous for teens learning to operate a motor vehicle and teens entering the workforce.

Increased substance abuse among teens has not only been linked with substance-related injuries but also an increased risk for physical fighting, both inside and outside the home. Substance abuse can result in substance-related violent behavior, which includes acts of violence aimed at oneself or others that are typically caused by substance use or withdrawal effects or to get access to substances.

Higher Risk of Unsafe Sexual Behavior

Substance abuse among teens has been linked with an increased risk of unsafe sexual behavior, including unprotected sex, teen pregnancy, and substance-related sexual assault.

Substance abuse can lead to poor decision-making abilities, so substance abusers may be more likely to engage in unprotected sex because they are not thinking about the potential dangers of substance use.

Increased substance abuse among teens has been linked with a higher risk of teen pregnancy before the age of 18. In fact, substance abuse is associated with up to half of all teen pregnancies.

Greater Likelihood of Drug Addiction as an Adult

Teenagers who abuse substances are more likely to develop substance addictions even after substance abuse stops. Substance addiction is characterized by substance cravings and compulsive substance use, even in the face of substance-related health issues or negative consequences associated with substance use.

Substance abuse among teens has been linked not only with an increased risk of substance addiction but also biological changes that make it harder for substance abusers to stop substance use even after substance addiction has been diagnosed.

Substance abuse during adolescence increases the risk of substance addiction and substance use disorders in adulthood.

Peer Pressure: Myth or Fact?

Peer pressure plays less of a role for younger teens than it does for older adults. Studies show that parental influence is a stronger factor in the risk of substance abuse than peer influence, and that upbringing and predisposition play a larger role in peer selection, to begin with. 

It’s only once children reach a point of maturity where they begin to move out of the house and develop ties to other people in other places that their attachment to home is greatly reduced, and peer influence takes on a greater role. 

That doesn’t mean that peer pressure doesn’t exist. It’s one of many possible factors that influence a teen’s decision-making. The more the people around them use drugs, the more likely a teen is to try drugs as well. But parents should know that their general attitude and history with drugs is likely to be reflected in the behavior of their kids, even more so than the behavior of the popular kids in class. Especially if the bond between a parent and their child is reinforced through care and good parenting. 

Why Addressing Substance Abuse in Teens is Crucial

The earlier a person is exposed to an addictive drug, the more likely they are to struggle with substance abuse as they get older. This suggests that children and teens are generally more susceptible to the addictive qualities of drugs like nicotine, alcohol, and certain prescription medication, as well as illicit substances. 

Using drugs at an early age also has a much greater impact on the physical and mental development of a person. The brain is a very fragile thing, and it’s even more fragile in adolescence than in adulthood. Developing brains may be stunted cognitively even by low amounts of illegal drug use, so helping minimize a teen’s substance use and treat their condition immediately is important.

What Parents Can Do to Reduce the Health Risks of Substance Abuse Among Teens?

As a parent, there are several things you can do to reduce the health risks of substance abuse among teens. It is important to set a good example and not engage in substance use or substance-related behaviors around your teen and instead be an active substance-free role model for them.

It is also critical that you talk to your teen about substance abuse early on, at the beginning of adolescence when substance abuse rates tend to be higher.

You should also make substance-free activities available to your teen, like substance-free social events or substance-free recreational activities. You can also monitor your teen’s substance use by looking out for substance cravings and withdrawal effects, both of which are telltale signs that substance abuse is taking place.

It is important to keep the lines of communication open with your teen, so they know that substance abuse is not okay and there are risks associated with substance abuse. You should also ensure that you have a good relationship with your teen by spending time together outside of substance-related events, keeping substance use out of conversation, and being supportive in general.

Teen Substance Abuse Treatment

Substance abuse treatment is widely available around the country. However, if you are interested in helping your teen, you may be interested in teen treatment programs.

Teen substance abuse treatment can help teens overcome substance abuse issues by developing substance-free coping skills, helping teens better manage their emotions, and encouraging healthy communication with family members.

Teen substance abuse treatment also helps to increase the likelihood that substance abusers will avoid relapse in the future.

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ADHD Substance Abuse

ADHD and Substance Abuse: What Parents Need to Know

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is diagnosed in about one in ten adolescents (and fewer young children), yet many cases go unnoticed for years and remain undiagnosed and untreated. It is those cases that are at the most risk of developing substance abuse issues later in life. In many cases, teens with ADHD who began using drugs were not looking to get high – instead, they sought drugs to combat the symptoms of an untreated disorder.

While the treatments for ADHD rely on controlled and addictive substances (amphetamine and methylphenidate), research also shows that teens with ADHD who are treated early and routinely take prescribed ADHD medication are much less likely to struggle with drug use later in life.

For reasons not yet completely understood, there is a strong link between ADHD and drug abuse, with potential factors including genetic proclivity, unrecognized ADHD symptoms, how they respond to self-medication, and the link between drug-seeking behavior and risk-taking novelty-seeking behavior linked to ADHD diagnoses. Either way, ADHD often co-occurs with addiction, and concurrent treatment through a holistic, multimodal approach is often necessary.

The Link Between ADHD and Substance Abuse

Adult alcoholics are five to ten times more likely to have undiagnosed ADHD than the general public. Among adults being treated for addiction, about a quarter have been diagnosed with ADHD. Among teens, some studies note that as many as 40 percent of teens with ADHD start drinking at an early age, versus 22 percent of teens without ADHD. Among young adults, the likelihood of using alcohol evened out – but those with ADHD were more likely to use alcohol excessively.

The two major factors researchers take into consideration are behavior and genetics. Both alcoholism and ADHD can be hereditary, and there is an increased rate of addiction in close relatives of people with an ADHD diagnosis. The impulsive, novelty-seeking behavior associated with ADHD may make some teens more likely to try or overindulge drugs than others. While ADHD medication itself is addictive in large doses, most cases of ADHD-related addiction are not because of the medication.

Instead, teens diagnosed and treated with ADHD meds early were less likely to struggle with drug use later. However, that does not mean these drugs are not dangerous for teens without ADHD symptoms. It seems amphetamines and methylphenidate work differently in the brains of teens with ADHD and those without. In other words, addiction to alcohol and other drugs is linked to ADHD, not to ADHD medication.

Recognizing ADHD in Teens

ADHD is a condition with multiple subtypes, and a correct diagnosis can only be achieved through mental healthcare professional. But knowing what to look for in yourself or a loved one can help you make the important decision of seeking a professional diagnosis. Common signs of ADHD in teens include:

    • Trouble finishing tasks.
    • Mood swings and emotionality.
    • Difficulties with executive functions.
    • Lack of focus, chronic distractibility.
    • Poor decision making, impulsiveness.
    • Hyperactivity, often presented through fidgeting movements.
    • May have one or more hobbies where they excel – everything else feels impossible to concentrate on.

ADHD is not just easily excitable, somewhat hyperactive, or scatterbrained. Children and teens with ADHD are often all over the place, cannot sit still, are easily consumed by boredom (even when everyone else is engaged), and are incredibly prone to risk-taking and dangerous, self-destructive behavior. Their executive dysfunction has often advanced to the point that it leads to chaos in their daily lives, including:

    • At school
    • At home
    • With friends
    • In relationships
    • And more

Teens with ADHD develop slower than their peers when it comes to time management and metacognition, and many undiagnosed cases of ADHD are unfairly labeled as lazy or just plain difficult.

Treating ADHD and Substance Abuse in Teens

Drug addiction with a concurrent mental health issue is often known as a dual diagnosis. Treating the dual diagnosis of ADHD and substance abuse requires a holistic approach because the two conditions are heavily entwined. There are neurological and psychological considerations during both heavy use and total withdrawal and their effect on the efficacy of a targeted treatment plan. Comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment often takes on the form of an inpatient or outpatient program with:

    • Multiple talk therapy methods to address and modify destructive thoughts and habits.
    • Skill-building to help identify and improve upon alternative coping mechanisms.
    • A consistent medication plan.
    • Group therapy to help patients become part of a larger support network and benefit from shared experiences.
    • The incorporation of friends and family as crucial elements in on-going, long-term treatment, long after the end of the initial treatment period.

ADHD is a condition that requires a combination of behavior-modifying therapy and medication. Teens with ADHD often cannot just learn to overcome their nature – they are inherently struggling with an atypical brain structure. Their addiction is often the result of numerous attempts to cope with these abnormalities and the problems they bring to the table during day-to-day activities. Addressing both concurrently means providing ample treatment for ADHD while arming the patient with the means to recognize, address, and avoid signs of recurring drug abuse.

Long-Term Treatment and Consistent Support

In some cases, the most important skill is knowing when to call for help and recognizing – and embracing – the importance of support networks when self-motivation is not enough. Coping with ADHD itself can be difficult – coping with addiction on top of that is even harder. The journey towards a fully functional and healthy life is a long one for many teens, and it cannot be walked alone.

The role of a friend or family member is not the same as that of a therapist or doctor, but it remains crucial, especially in the long-term. These conditions are not treated over the course of several weeks but instead require consistent effort over the years and a commitment towards alternative coping mechanisms and the lessons of therapy. It is also a loved one’s job to recognize when family support is not enough and when it is important to seek professional help once again.

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Substance Abuse

Inhalants, Huffing, and Commonly Abused Household Products

An estimated 750,000 people use inhalants for the first time every year, and more than 22 million Americans ages 12 and up have gotten high off inhalant products. The prevalence is enough that inhalant abuse was once dubbed “the forgotten epidemic.” Inhalants refer to a vast number of substances and products, far too many to list. Common examples include:

    • Glue
    • Toluene
    • Gasoline
    • Shoe polish
    • Lighter fluid
    • Spray paints
    • Cleaning products

And alongside chemicals commonly abused for their psychoactive effects, such as nitrite vasodilators (medication for heart disease) and nitrous oxide (laughing gas). In general, anything that produces intoxicating (and usually dangerous) fumes can be misused for a high, often to the severe detriment of the user’s health and safety. Despite their prevalence and massive long-term health risks, inhalant abuse is not particularly well-covered nor researched. But it remains a significant risk to teens not aware of the dangers of what might seem like a harmless high.

How Are Inhalants Abused?

Inhalants are chemicals that produce intoxicating vapors, usually poured on a rag or inhaled directly from the product’s packaging. These chemicals become gaseous through volatilization or are stored in a compressed liquid form and sprayed. Drugs that must be heated or burned first are not generally considered inhalants.

Because the highs are short-lived, inhalant abuse is often recognized through repeated and frequent inhalant use, despite short-term and long-term physical and mental health consequences. They are cheap and easy to procure, available at nearly any hardware store or dollar store, or even sold online. This has made them the drug of choice for young teens who do not have the means to take other drugs, and they are ubiquitous among homeless children.

Why Are These Household Products Addictive?

Most inhalants are not illegal or strictly dangerous when used properly – but their inhalation causes short-term intoxication, which can be addictive. Alongside an alcohol-like drunken state, inhalants can induce hallucinations, euphoria, and sleep. The active societal dangers of long-term inhalant abuse remain generally unknown to us, as many inhalant use deaths are attributed to strokes or heart attacks. Inhalant use has also caused death by an automobile accident and pneumonia, frostbite in the throat, and brain damage through lack of oxygen.

Commonly Abused Inhalants and Chemicals

The list of products that can be abused as inhalants is too long to compile here, but inhalants can generally be broken down into four distinct and recognizable categories.

Solvents

Solvents are volatile chemicals that vaporize at room temperature. Solvents commonly used as an addictive drug include:

    • Glue
    • Gasoline
    • Lighter fluid
    • Felt-tip markers
    • Dry-cleaning fluids
    • Nail polish removers
    • Correction fluid (white ink)
    • Electronic contact cleaners
    • Paint thinners and removers

Gases

Gases include inhalants that are already stored in a gaseous form or are compressed then sprayed in a gaseous form. Misused inhalant gases include:

    • Butane
    • Propane
    • Anesthetic gases (chloroform, ether)

Aerosols

Aerosol cans can be used as inhalants for their nitrous oxide or the contents of the can (spray paint). Products commonly misused as aerosol inhalants include:

    • Hair spray
    • Spray paints
    • Whipped cream
    • Deodorant sprays
    • Vegetable oil spray
    • Air freshener sprays
    • Aerosol cleaning products

Nitrites

Mostly alkyl nitrites, especially amyl nitrite, methyl nitrite, and ethyl nitrite. These are usually sold as “poppers” or disguised as cleaning products, can be prescribed under niche uses such as an antidote to cyanide poisoning. Names for some nitrite inhalants include:

These products may or may not contain amyl nitrite and other nitrites. Tape head cleaners, for example, may instead contain acetone or rubbing alcohol. Nitrites are especially dangerous because they can limit the availability of oxygen to the brain, causing hypoxia.

The Dangers of Inhalant Abuse

The long-term effects of inhalant abuse can include:

    • Lung failure
    • Liver damage
    • Brain damage
    • Loss of hearing
    • Kidney damage
    • Internal frostbite
    • Bone marrow disease
    • Delusion-induced injuries
    • Developmental problems (in children and teens)
    • Nerve damage (and associated loss of control and coordination)

Because certain inhalants are powerful intoxicants, these substances are also associated with risk-heavy behavior, including unsafe sex and life-endangering activities. Some first-time users can also react fatally to an inhalant because these chemicals are often very concentrated and not at all meant for human consumption, whether through inhalation or otherwise. This is known as sudden sniffing death.

Inhalant Abuse and Dependence Among Adolescents

While we know that a significant number of young teens are using inhalants, more than any other age group, there is little data on how addictive they are. But there are reports of withdrawal symptoms and other signs of physical addiction among teens abusing inhalants, with symptoms following disuse including:

    • Mood shifts
    • Sleeplessness
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nausea and dizziness

Inhalant use is dangerous at any level, from first-time use to long-term use. These substances can cause major lasting damage to the central and peripheral nervous system and vital organs in the body. They are especially dangerous for the developing bodies of children and teens.

How Teen Inhalant Abuse Is Treated

Teen inhalant abuse treatment often involves therapy. A psychiatric professional will be able to work with your teen to address the psychological impact of inhalant abuse, discuss healthier coping mechanisms for cravings, as well as new and existing stressors, and suggest more intensive treatments if necessary, including (but not limited to):

    • Family therapy
    • Day school options
    • Rehabilitative activities
    • Residential treatment programs
    • Resources for building a local support system

Despite not being a typical drug, inhalants can and do cause addiction and can elicit cravings. Part of this is psychological, but depending on the substance, it can also be a form of physical dependence and addiction. For those largely drawn to inhalants to escape their situation mentally, inhalants serve as a powerful albeit maladapted coping mechanism and finding an alternative can be difficult.

For many teens with a history of inhalant abuse, treatment may be about developing skills to deal with stressors and learning to recognize and avoid potential relapses. If you or someone you know is struggling with inhalant abuse, do not hesitate to seek help today.

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Substance Abuse

Teen Substance Abuse Prevention Starts at Home

Teen drug use may not be the issue decades ago, but many adolescents continue to use and overuse substances, especially alcohol and marijuana. According to the CDC, at least half of all US students between the 9th and 12th grade are estimated to have tried marijuana, and two-thirds of 12th graders have had alcohol. Estimates of recreational or illegal prescription drug use among 12th graders range from 2 to 10 percent.

Parents who might feel powerless over their teen’s decision-making and fear that they cannot prevent or stop their child’s drug use should know that the relationship between parents and their child is one of the strongest bonds in the child’s life. Even among teens, parents wield enormous influence not only with their words and rules but especially with their actions and habits.

Teen substance abuse prevention starts at home. Research shows that parental influence is an often more significant factor in a teen’s behavior and relationship towards drugs than peer influence. Parents play a critical role in preparing their children for the realities and risks of drug use.

Teen Substance Abuse Prevention and Parental Influence

One of the biggest contributors to a teen’s risk of drug abuse is the quality and nature of their relationship with their parents and the behavior and habits their parents engage in. Positive family influences reduce the risk of drug use, and conversely, negative family influences greatly increase it. Examples of what count as important factors for family influence includes:

    • Consistent rules and consequences (i.e., consistent boundaries, clear differences between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, rules applying to the whole family).
    • Family bonding and time spent together.
    • Family monitoring and its influence on teen peer choices (who your child hangs out with).
    • Family conflict (and lack thereof).

Related factors that tend to introduce further stressors – such as being preoccupied with work and unable to engage in family life, poor socioeconomic conditions, ease of access/opportunity – each plays a role in how family life, particularly the relationship with one’s parents, influences a teen’s choices regarding drug use and peer choice.

Peer pressure, while relevant, is also influenced by parental relationships. Parents play a role in who a teen tends to choose as friends, and the likelihood of engaging in drug use is higher among peers who already use drugs and do so regularly in a social context. One of the only factors that potentially becomes less important over time is family bonding.

This drops off once a teen becomes 18 years old on average. This does not mean parents should stop bonding with their adult children, but it does mean that it has less impact on their child’s behavior. Other factors, such as consistent boundaries and rules, family conflict, and parent behavior, remain important.

Parenting style also plays a role. Yes, rules are important, but parents who demanded obedience over understanding and affection (an authoritarian approach) saw higher drug use rates than authoritative or permissive parenting styles. Neglectful parenting (a complete lack of rules) also significantly raised the risk.

Teens Reflect Parental Opinions and Actions

One of the most important targets for effective teen substance abuse prevention is one’s own relationships with drugs. Decades of research point out time and time again that children and teens effectively mirror or mimic their parent’s choices regarding drug use and substance abuse. If a parent wants to stop their teen from drinking, smoking, or taking pills recreationally, one of the most effective ways to do so is to exhibit the kind of behavior they expect to see in their teens – consistently and in the long-term.

Research suggests that children begin to experiment with health risk behaviors as early as age 10 in vulnerable children, including substance use, and are likely to mimic what they see around them – whether in the home, at school, or between friends or even on TV. Consider your own relationship to drugs and how you use them to cope – even if it means cracking open a cold beer after a rough day at work. How often do you drink or smoke? And would you want your child to emulate your habits and behavior?

Choose Your Words and Lessons Carefully

Being a role model for your child does not guarantee that a teen stays away from drugs. There is more to it than just role modeling – parents need to take charge in educating their teens, using reliable sources of information, and ensuring that their teens understand the real dangers of drug use.

Misinformation and exaggerations only serve to hurt the cause here, especially in a day and age where most teens are even more capable than their parents when seeking out information. Your children will be able to refute what you tell them if it is not grounded in the facts. If they feel like you are lying to them, then your attempts at warning your teen about drugs may only serve to erode their trust in you.

Take an objective stance on the issue and address drug use by focusing on its health hazards and effects on the mind and body. Drive home the point that the use of drugs can quickly develop into substance abuse, especially in teens. Take the time to learn more about what certain drugs are, how they are produced and sold, and how your teen might be able to recognize and avoid them in the future.

Children and teens may be more likely to engage in risky behavior than adults. Still, many of them do not understand or know how prescription drugs can be just as dangerous as “street drugs” or how alcohol use and nicotine can be comparably addictive and ruinous at an early age to “hard drugs.”

Address Common Misconceptions and Harmful Tropes

No matter how hard a parent might try, teens will still be subjected to imagery and media promoting or glorifying drug use, whether as part of an artistic vision or a narrative trope. It is becoming harder and harder to manage and filter what media your teens consume, making it more important to educate them on contentious or difficult topics than ever before.

Without proper elucidation, teens might expect that everyone is supposed to drink and drink often, or that marijuana is harmless, or that prescription stimulants help a person study harder. These myths are harmful and common enough that they might negatively impact your teen’s decision-making down the line when you are not there to stop them.

Teen substance abuse prevention starts at home. A fact-based education, a strong parental bond, and role modeling are the key tenets of a good teen substance abuse prevention approach.

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ADHD Substance Abuse

Teen Amphetamine Abuse Risks and Ripple Effects

Drug addiction distinguishes itself from behavioral addiction by how addictive substances affect the brain, both in the short- and long-term. Among many recreational substances, amphetamines are some of the most dangerous and addictive, especially for teens and young adults. While certain rewarding behavior can engender repetition, even in the face of dire consequences, drugs are hazardous to most people because they neurologically change how the brain interprets them with every use.

Research shows that certain substances develop sensitivity in the brain, wherein receptors react more strongly to a drug the first few times. This dependence is deepened by other physical, neurological, and psychological symptoms of addiction, creating a vicious cycle. While amphetamine abuse is treatable, the prognosis for addiction largely depends on a long list of internal and external factors. For amphetamines, breaking the habit does not mean this sensitivity is reversible.

However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), research has shown that even the infrequent use of amphetamines can have serious, if not lifelong or life-threatening, consequences for teens – even after years of abstinence. Here’s what you need to know about the risks of early-onset use and the rippling effects of teen amphetamine abuse.

What Are Amphetamines?

Amphetamines are a type of synthetic stimulant drug with a long history of medical use, first as a nasal decongestant and aphrodisiac, and later as a prescription drug for:

    • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
    • Obesity
    • Narcolepsy
    • Off-label uses for both depression and pain
    • Performance-enhancing uses in both sports and combat duty

A controlled substance since 1970, amphetamines can be very addictive and are typically more dangerous for teens without ADHD or narcolepsy than teens because of the neurological mechanisms behind these illnesses. Ironically, while a dangerous drug when used recreationally, prescribed amphetamine reduces the risk of substance use disorder (SUD) for teens with ADHD.

When used recreationally, however, the drug has a myriad of short-term and long-term effects, as well as adverse effects on the heart and brain. Notable dangerous side effects of amphetamine use include an increased risk of hypertension and tachycardia, anxiety, and insomnia. The most commonly abused name-brand amphetamines include:

Ritalin, which is also an ADHD drug, contains methylphenidate instead of amphetamine. Methylphenidate is also a highly addictive stimulant drug. Amphetamine produced and sold illegally is sometimes also known as “speed,” “uppers,” or “bennies.” Methamphetamine (meth) is a different stimulant drug based on the chemical structure of amphetamine. While it does have a brand prescription name, it is very rarely prescribed and is mainly produced and sold illegally as a dangerous recreational drug. MDMA (Ecstasy) is also amphetamine derived.

Signs & Symptoms of Teen Amphetamine Abuse

Amphetamines can produce a remarkable boost in energy and sociability and may affect both physical and cognitive performance. The amphetamines themselves do not give you any energy. Instead, they interact with receptors in the brain, releasing a powerful mixture of neurotransmitters and hormones such as dopamine and epinephrine. This can boost confidence and self-esteem to the point of grandeur, but it comes with a steep physical and psychological price, especially in the long-term or with repeated use. Some signs of teen amphetamine abuse include:

    • Irritability
    • Rapid mood swings
    • Hallucinations (rare)
    • Restlessness and insomnia
    • Frequent gastric problems
    • Delusions or paranoid behavior
    • Sudden weight loss and change in appetite

Amphetamine can be swallowed, injected, smoked, or snorted. There are no drug paraphernalia specifically associated with amphetamine, but missing pills or an unprescribed medication bottle may be common indicators.

Even Occasional Substance Use Has Consequences for Teens

Drug use during adolescence can dangerously lead to a higher risk of teen substance abuse. Studies have shown that unnecessary or recreational amphetamine use early on in life can increase the drug’s sensitivity later in adulthood. This means teens who abuse drugs like Adderall or other sources of amphetamine for recreational or academic purposes and then quit are more sensitive to the drug when they are older and have a higher risk of developing an addiction if they reencounter it.

Part of the reason these drugs are dangerous to teens is because of how they imprint themselves on the brain and because of adolescent neurology. Teen brains are still in development long after the rest of the body has finished maturing. The human brain is generally still “growing” until about 25, which is why teens have a harder time with long-term planning and risk assessment. This makes them more vulnerable to repeated drug use despite warnings and adverse effects, and it makes them more likely to ignore others’ experiences or fail to recognize the risk.

This is because, as research has shown, teens are much more likely to rely on the reward-based portion of their forebrain than the underdeveloped amygdala-cortex, which focuses on assessing risk when making decisions and thinking. It also means that drug use experiences become enmeshed in the brain at an earlier age, causing a much higher likelihood of addiction than if a person had encountered the same drug years later, late into their twenties.

Long-Term Effects of Amphetamines

Some of the long-term effects of teen amphetamine abuse include (but is not limited to):

    • Psychosis
    • Convulsions
    • Severe anxiety
    • Heart palpitations
    • Erectile dysfunction
    • Increased risk of stroke
    • Changes in blood pressure
    • Hypertension or hypotension
    • Worsened respiratory issues (in people with pre-existing respiratory illnesses)

Adverse effects, neurotoxicity, and the risk of dependence are all varied from person to person, and both genetic and external factors play a role in this. Polydrug use or using amphetamine produced illegally can further complicate long-term effects, as these street-level products are often mixed with other drugs.

Tackling Teen Amphetamine Abuse

There is no pharmacological solution for treating the abuse of amphetamines. Still, psychotherapy-based treatments have proven effective in helping teens recover from amphetamine addiction through a long-term recovery plan, often with the help of friends and relatives in the form of a strong support system. Inpatient and outpatient treatment programs can offer different perspectives and an array of effective coping mechanisms to teens with a history of substance use disorder.

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Substance Abuse

Cocaine Addiction in Teens and How to Help

While cocaine use has dropped significantly in the last decade, it remains a problem for those exposed to the drug at a young age. Cocaine is a powerful stimulant, no matter what form it takes or how it is consumed. Teens who use cocaine experience a mighty dopamine dump and are liable to use it again, mostly because their brains are more susceptible to both the drug’s short-term and long-term effects.

Continued use can lead to dependence and addiction. Like other stimulants, cocaine’s effects on the heart and brain can lead to a drastically shortened lifespan, especially in those addicted to it. The mental health effects of cocaine addiction in teens should not be understated either. Despite triggering euphoria, cocaine use can drastically worsen existing symptoms of anxiety and trigger panic attacks.

Cocaine dependence and addiction can worsen depression, and teens already struggling with mental health conditions are more likely to get hooked on addictive drugs like cocaine. Swift professional treatment, access to helpful physical and mental health resources, and a long-term support system are critical in helping teens with cocaine addiction.

Do Teens Still Use Cocaine?

Although cocaine use has dropped off since the mid-80s, with a dramatic drop occurring around 2009 onwards, nearly a million Americans (913,000) met the diagnostic criteria for cocaine addiction in 2014. The heaviest users now and at the time were young college-aged students, between ages 18-25 (specifically 18-20), who also experienced the most significant drop in user numbers since.

Factors for why cocaine has become less popular include its price and the fact that most teens across all three surveyed school grades (8th, 10th, and 12th grades) overwhelmingly disapprove of cocaine use. That being said, the perceived risk of the drug has gone down somewhat.

Cocaine overdoses and deaths in popular media are no longer relatively as fresh on the mind of today’s youth than it was for the previous generation. While teens still crack cocaine as one of the most dangerous illegal drugs available, they are less disapproving of single-time cocaine use than before.

Cocaine and the Opioid Crisis

Despite the lower perceived risk, cocaine has also become much more dangerous. While cocaine itself is a powerful stimulant, rising death rates point to a dangerous trend of mixing the illegal drug with a powerful synthetic opioid called fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a hundred times stronger than morphine and is usually used in extraordinarily controlled and low doses to address terminal and intractable pain. When mixed into cocaine to cut costs and increase potency, it can lead to a much higher risk of overdose and death.

This new trend is directly related to the opioid crisis, which has led the charge in drug-related deaths after over-prescription of painkillers and unscrupulous marketing tactics in the 1990s eventually led to an increase in illegal opioid use, a resurgence of heroin, and opioid-related overdoses.

While fentanyl is one of the most potent and dangerous additives found in cocaine, it is far from the only one. Because of its cost, cocaine is often cut with other at-times toxic substances, many of which might not elicit a short-term reaction but can lead to significant long-term brain and organ damage.

Signs of Cocaine Addiction in Teens

Cocaine addiction can have a severe physical and mental impact on teens. Symptoms differ depending on the drug’s purity, the filler substances used (if any), and whether a teen is currently coming down from a high, experiencing withdrawal, or presently high. Some common signs of cocaine use and cocaine addiction in teens include:

While using:

  • Manic behavior
  • Low or no appetite
  • Excessive energy and talkativeness (compared to their usual demeanor)
  • Feelings of invincibility and grandeur (more so than other teens)
  • Extreme irritability
  • Excessive sleep
  • Erratic mood

While coming down:

  • Nightmares
  • Signs of depression (long-term low mood and low self-esteem)
  • Signs of anxiety (nervousness, long-term dread or panic, constant worry)
  • Suicidal ideation

Physical signs of frequent use:

  • Twitching or occasional “shakes”
  • Runny nose and no other cold symptoms
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Unexplained nosebleeds
  • Needle marks (cocaine may be injected instead)
  • Drug paraphernalia (glass pipe for crack cocaine)

Long-Term Effects of Teen Cocaine Addiction

The long-term effects of cocaine depend on the severity of use, frequency of use, the additives found in the drug, and the consumption method. For example, injecting the drug carries a much higher risk of HIV or hepatitis, especially when sharing needles. Some of the long-term effects of cocaine addiction in teens include:

Neurological Effects of Cocaine Addiction

In its pure form, the powerful stimulant effects of cocaine can be addictive, particularly for a developing brain. A modern understanding of addiction defines it as a brain disease or neurological condition. Regular drug use leads to a physical and mental dependence on the drug and the associated phenomenon of withdrawal, growing drug tolerance, and overdose risk.

Teen brains are underdeveloped and more likely to get addicted and be addicted for longer, as most severe addictions correlate with early drug use. While the immediate effects of cocaine on the brain are felt as “positive” (boundless energy, increased motivation, and a manic feeling), the long-term effects are severely adverse. They include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Chronic headaches
  • Loss of motivation
  • Feeling excessively tired
  • Feeling unable to function without the drug
  • Feelings of paranoia

Physical Effects of Cocaine Addiction

Aside from the physical risk of overdose, cocaine’s long-term toxicity is felt the most in the heart, liver, and brain, where the drug can cause severe damage and induce a stroke, heart attack, or liver failure. Most heavy cocaine users also displayed abnormal liver function and were at a much higher risk of heart-related illnesses and sudden death. Cocaine use can also lead to other physical dangers due to being high, sharing needles, or reaching a near-toxic dose.

How to Help and When to Seek Treatment

While fewer teens use cocaine than before, it’s still a problem for many teens, and nearly a third of surveyed teens reported that finding and buying cocaine today would be relatively easy. Treating cocaine addiction can be difficult because of how addiction affects the teen brain. However, a dedicated and individualized treatment plan and long-term support can significantly reduce the chance of a relapse and help teens learn to cope with cravings and develop the toolset to combat their addiction: the earlier treatment starts, the better.

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Substance Abuse

Kratom Use Among Teenagers Is on the Rise

Kratom is a tropical plant indigenous to Southeast Asia, particularly the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. Botanically it belongs to the coffee family, and it contains several psychoactive compounds that mimic stimulants and opioids. It is sold in its original form, and it can be obtained legally in powdered form or as a tea in several states in the United States. It is usually touted as:

    • Anti-anxiety supplement
    • Herbal remedy for chronic pain
    • Treatment tool for opioid addiction

However, the evidence for its efficacy – to any degree – is fragile and mostly anecdotal. Most studies on kratom are of low quality, and more research is needed. Similarly, it is not clear to what degree the drug is addictive. However, it leads to withdrawal symptoms and can interact with other alkaloid drugs (including illicit stimulants) and opioids.

Is Kratom Dangerous?

While kratom has been used recreationally in Southeast Asia for at least about a century, especially in combination with cough medicine, its prevalence and use in Europe and the United States is a relatively new phenomenon. Although the herb is not a scheduled drug in the United States, it is considered a controlled substance in 16 other countries due to its psychoactive properties.

Just as there is a shortage of evidence to suggest that kratom has any legitimate therapeutic use outside of its marketing hype, there is also little evidence to suggest that it is hazardous on its own. However, it can quickly become dangerous in combination with other substances, and there have been cases of kratom use leading to adverse reactions, including:

    • Tachycardia
    • Hypertension
    • Seizures

Furthermore, there have been reports of addiction – especially among teens – in cases of excessive kratom use, meaning the herb should still be kept away from minors. A lack of any research on its long-term effects should also give people pause.

How Does It Affect Teens?

The primary psychoactive compound in kratom is an alkaloid named mitragynine. Its claim to fame is its interaction with opioid receptors, which has had both chronic pain patients and recovering opioid addicts drawn to it as an alternative for overcoming withdrawal symptoms safely or as a potential painkiller. In lower doses, users report stimulant effects, much like a potent coffee or even certain types of ADHD medication.

Its use among teens has been reported particularly as a “smart drug” or study drug – a substance used to pull all-nighters and prepare for exams. It should be noted that these substances are not proven to enhance a student’s ability to retain information or improve test scores and always do more harm than good. In higher doses, users report feelings of euphoria and a greater likelihood of withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms do not always indicate addiction, as they are a natural occurrence when the body adjusts to a specific dose of any drug. However, multiple clinics have reported cases of families with teens who exhibited behavioral signs of addiction, including severe irritability. Not enough is known about how kratom affects teens differently from adults or how their long-term use might affect the developing teen brain.

However, it should be noted that teens are generally more susceptible to psychoactive compounds and their addictive potential – and that teens exposed to addictive substances are more likely to become addicted than if they first tried substances later in adulthood. The teen brain is not fully matured, which means the neurological changes over prolonged and chronic drug use may occur faster and more intensely in teens than adults.

Why Is Kratom Legal?

Kratom is legal mainly because there has been quite a lot of public backlash against criminalizing it without further research, especially given the push to decriminalize marijuana. Much like how individual compounds within marijuana have legitimate pharmaceutical uses, further research may help us isolate whether kratom can help people and in what form.

Proponents of the drug argue that banning it would harm those currently relying on the herb for medicinal purposes. On the other hand, the FDA announced that kratom had recently been involved in the deaths of at least 44 people, and the Department of Health and Human Services recommended a ban in a private memo.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, however, noted that these deaths involved poly-drug use, and it isn’t clear still what danger kratom has on its own. The debate on the drug rages on, and it is hard to tell whether it is slated to be banned in the next few years or whether mitragynine or another compound within kratom will find therapeutic use.

Parents and teens are especially advised to be very cautious – even in its pure and natural form. There is no telling what effects kratom may have on the body over time, let alone whether there are genetic factors to consider that might affect its efficacy and addictiveness. Furthermore, nearly all kratom products are processed in one way or another, and the FDA does not approve its use.

Spotting and Avoiding Kratom

Kratom is usually sold in powdered form or as dried leaves for steeping kratom tea. When steeped, it produces a very bitter tea. It may also be sold in capsule form or smoked. Most kratom products advertise themselves as such due to the established marketing surrounding the drug. Teens may be told that the drug has stimulant effects and can:

    • Help them prep for a test
    • Relieve anxiety
    • Help with depression and stress

None of these claims are proven. Because of the lack of regulations and oversight on the drug’s production and processing, it is also unclear what other substances might be mixed into any kratom or “kratom-related” products. Teens especially are advised to steer clear because they may be targeted as customers for lower quality kratom products. If you think your teen has been using kratom or another potentially addictive substance, it is essential to bring it up with them.

Kratom use has been on the rise in boutiques and online shops around the country, and it is not typically seen by most as a dangerous or potentially addictive drug. They might not understand that it can still be dangerous even they are only getting the expensive, lab-tested, or “pure” products. Until we know more, kratom is a drug with addictive potential and unknown long-term effects.

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Substance Abuse

Is Substance Use a Part of “Normal” Teen Behavior?

Typically, teen behavior tends to be rebellious and boundary-pushing. Adolescents are seeking ways to defy authority and establish an experienced understanding of what is and is not okay. They are not content with rules and edicts, and experimentation is par for the course.

But does that mean parents should expect teens to experiment with drugs, as well? Is a lax approach to something as serious as substance use a positive and healthy way to deal with the inevitable, or does it invite harmful teen behavior that does not play a positive role in a teen’s development? Is it really “normal” and expected for kids to use drugs?

The answer depends on individual factors. Some teens grow up under circumstances that normalize drug use. Some cultures even see it as a rite of passage. But that does not make it healthy nor ideal, and many people underestimate the number of teens and young adults who have not used drugs, including alcohol.

While drug use doesn’t automatically doom your child to a life of crime, and the vast majority of those who grow up to develop substance use issues do so due to co-occurring mental health problems and/or serious socioeconomic factors, it is still a very risky teen behavior, and one that shouldn’t be brushed off as normal or part of the everyday modern teen experience.

Why Teens Use Drugs

Most people understand that drugs are dangerous. And most people who use drugs are intelligent enough to factor this knowledge into their decision-making process. They understand that continued drug use can be a sign of addiction and choose to use drugs despite the risks. This goes for legal substances like alcohol and nicotine, and illicit drugs as well. But teens are vulnerable in a unique way because their ability to recognize and factor risk in any decision-making process is inherently flawed.

Teens often overlook or downplay the risk of anything they do, in part because their brain has not developed the necessary tools to let them consider the dangers of what they are doing. It is not until the mid-to-late 20s that a person develops the total mental acuity needed to properly assess risk (some better than others) and make informed decisions. On the other hand, teens are more than capable enough of enjoying the short-term pleasures of drug use. Too capable, in fact, compared to the rest of their brain.

Drugs like cannabis, alcohol, nicotine, illicit substances like cocaine and heroin, and prescription drugs each interact with the teen brain in their own way. Because teen brains are still in development, positive reinforcement is that much stronger, and leaves a much longer-lasting impact. In other words, just as teens generally learn faster than older adults, so too does their brain translate that drugs = pleasure at a faster and stronger rate.

As a result, research shows that age of first use plays an important role in the development of addiction, and that delaying a teen’s exposure to any drug can reduce chances of addiction. This explains why teens might use drugs even if they know drugs are bad, and it helps explain why minimizing or eliminating drug use during adolescence is important in reducing rates of addiction. But there are other factors involved in teen drug use, particularly ones that serve as motivating factors for first-time use.

Parent-Child Relationships and Peer Influences on Teen Behavior

We have all heard of the impact of peer pressure on teen drug use. While peer pressure is a contributing factor, it is not as important as it might seem. Teens act rebellious, and they can be a major headache to their parents, but their decision-making process is heavily informed by the quality of their relationship with their parents. Teens who are on good terms with their parents are much less likely to use drugs, particularly if their parents do not approve of them – despite being exposed to drug use among friends.

Overall, parental relationships may be the strongest protective factor against the decision to use drugs. Another important consideration is that conversations centered around health risks are more effective at reducing risk, than those centered around consequences, parent’s own use of drugs, and permissive messages. What parents do also has a strong correlative effect on what teens do.

The decision to experiment with a drug is also informed by a great number of factors aside from parental and peer influence. Curiosity, availability, acute and chronic stressors, and mental health are all important factors, both for and against drug use. Mental health issues are a contributing factor as well – teens with depressive symptoms or symptoms of anxiety are much more likely to try and use drugs.

Does Your Teen Understand How Drugs Work?

Having an earnest and fact-filled conversation with your teens about drugs and drug use can significantly impact their decision to experiment with drugs, especially if they understand how drugs affect the mind and body, and how drug use negatively impacts long-term health and development. Teens want to be informed, and they would like to be informed by parents who are similarly averse to drug use at home, be it through drinking or something stronger. It is important to convey truthful information.

Kids are and always have been exceedingly good at sniffing out exaggeration and false information, and with the Internet at their fingertips, they can selectively refute anything you give them that isn’t completely true – and by association, they’ll be less likely to listen or trust your message. Psychoactive substances are not inherently bad, as many of them play a role in treating medical issues or have become an accepted part of human culture.

Kids also learn that you do not get addicted from a single hit, or that marijuana turns your brain into mush, or that everyone who drinks becomes an alcoholic. But truthful messaging that does not hide the impact that drugs can have on a person (especially early drug use) is still an effective deterrent and generates trust. And trust is something teenagers crave from their parents.

They are seeking autonomy and freedom, and while parents have a responsibility to limit both for their child’s protection, doing so at the cost of their parent-child relationship can push a teen towards using. If you think your child has been using drugs, then taking early action is important. Talk to your teen about the facts – about the impact of early drug use on the developing brain, about the potential long-term effects of “harmless” drugs like marijuana, and the information around misused prescription drugs and alcohol.