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10 Places Your Teen Can Hide Drugs

If you believe that your teen has been using drugs as of late, chances are that they have some with them at home. Where teens hide drugs are not always immediately obvious – you might not find a quarter ounce of weed stuffed away in a sock at the bottom of the drawer or in the pocket of their least favorite jacket – but there are only so many places you can hide drugs around a house.

While your teen might be more inventive than most, these tend to be the most common places your teen can hide drugs from snooping siblings and parents alike.

1. Scent-proofed Stashes

Not all drugs have a strong scent. Trained dogs can sniff out drugs like cocaine even amid a pile of dirty laundry, but the human nose is not that advanced. That being said, some popular drugs, like marijuana, in particular, have a very strong and distinctive scent. This narrows down a teen’s options.

The first, yet probably most obvious thing to do, is to bury the stash. The problem with doing so is that it’s pretty easy to tell when a hole has been freshly dug, and they’d have to signpost it somehow to avoid losing their weed. It’s still worth checking the backyard, though.

Other scent-proofed possibilities include large jars of coffee (coffee is a natural deodorant and has its own scent), empty roll-on deodorant sticks, inside an unused bag of pet food, or a permanent marker with a strong scent.

2. Video Game Consoles

Some consoles are a bit more infamous than others for providing great hiding opportunities. One disadvantage is that consoles are just like computers but optimized for space and performance. This means they can get quite hot, which isn’t ideal for some drugs. Checking your teen’s console might be tricky, as it can be fairly easy to damage.

There are plenty of tutorials online for removing the front panel of a video game console, whether it’s a Playstation, an Xbox, or an older Wii U. Portable consoles like the Switch or PS Vita are much more difficult to use as potential drug stashes, due to their compact nature. Old, unused, or broken consoles can be retrofitted into potential drug stashes, however, by removing key components. On a similar note, your teen’s PC tower might be another place to look.

3. The Backyard

We’ve mentioned burying drugs, but that isn’t the only option. A backyard is a place full of potential (and great) hiding spots. Hollow garden gnomes? Hollow spaces inside flowerpots? Under a slab in the rock garden? In the tool shed, hidden behind the fertilizer? The possibilities are endless – which makes the backyard one of the better hiding spots, provided it’s large enough to make searching difficult.

4. Personal Hygiene Products

Teens expect a little privacy from their parents, at least when it comes to what they use to get ready for the day. However, old and used containers or empty makeup kits make for a good hiding spot.

5. Their Car

It’s obvious but effective. Don’t just check on the floor or in the glovebox – drugs can be taped under the seat or dashboard or stashed under the hood.

6. Toilet Tank

The toilet tank is an all-time favorite. Simple, marginally gross, and easy to access.

7. Air Vents

Most modern homes no longer have these, but older homes and apartments do. Air vents are a pretty convenient place to stash anything that’s relatively small and doesn’t have a significant odor or can be placed in an odor-safe container. That means you likely won’t find weed in an air vent your teen has access to, but you might find – depending on the size of the vent and the space provided – alcohol, certain prescription pills, or cocaine.

An alternative yet similar hiding space is an unused air conditioning unit. Most older air conditioning units have an easily removable front panel and a little bit of space for hiding things.

8. Cookie and Candy Tins

Altoids have been making a comeback – not so much for the candy itself but for the nostalgic and aesthetic factor of the tin. In addition to cash, teens might also use Altoid tins to stash other valuables. The same goes for cookie tins, old candy tins, etc. 

9. Behind Posters

If the drug is in a powder form or can be easily flattened (such as a small plastic bag with a few pills), another good place to hide it would be behind a poster taped against the wall.

10. Inside Books

It’s not done very often, but people do still hollow out cavities in books they aren’t really a fan of and use that as a discrete hiding spot.

Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

Even if your teen does not typically apply their full faculties to daily tasks and schoolwork, never underestimate a teenager’s capacity for innovation and inventiveness when it comes down to it.

Going Through Great Lengths to Hide Drugs

Teens understand that drugs are dangerous and that they shouldn’t use them frivolously. But oftentimes, they don’t care. Whether it’s because most teens have an immortality complex or because the long-term consequences of drug use are known, but simply don’t register in their minds, teens can and will go through great lengths to hide drugs or their drug use, especially if they live in an area where it’s both harder to get drugs, and where punishment for drug possession is greater.

What if You Don’t Find Anything?

If you don’t find your teen’s drug stash or think they might not be keeping any drugs at hand, after all, that does not necessarily mean they aren’t taking anything. If you catch your teen being high regularly without having any drugs at home, it can only mean one thing: they’re getting and using drugs while out with friends or acquaintances.

Suspicious Behavior Doesn’t Equal a Drug Problem

Last but not least, not all suspicious teen behavior is indicative of a drug problem. If you don’t have any conclusive proof that your teen is regularly using drugs, then their behavior could be explained in other ways. Irritability, pulling away from family, anxious or paranoid behavior, and memory problems can be caused by other conditions, including stress- or trauma-related anxiety. If your teen doesn’t want to talk about their problems and habits, consider speaking with a mental health professional about potential intervention tactics.

For more information, please contact Visions Treatment Centers. If your teen is struggling with substance abuse, reach out to us to learn more about residential treatment program options and much more.

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4 Sneaky Mental Illnesses in Teens to Watch Out For

Mental illnesses in teens can be a complicated topic for parents, especially if they have no personal experience with mental disorders. Recognizing and separating symptoms of a mental disorder from regular teenage behavior can be difficult, because many mental health symptoms are subtle, and begin in ways that can be misconstrued as normal teenage behavior.

Nevertheless, recognizing and identifying these symptoms is important. Teens themselves may lack the awareness or the experience to identify their feelings as troublesome and might instead internalize their symptoms as being their own fault.

This guilt can feed and accelerate feelings of anxiety, depression, or other symptoms, and can make treatment more difficult over time. Pressure at home or at school, a history of victimization, or mental health stigma in the community can complicate things even further, making teens less likely to seek help or consider asking for it.

Mental Illnesses in Teens Have Gone Up

The rates at which mental illnesses in teens have also gone up over time. Some of it may stem from awareness, or from societal factors, such as environmental concerns, greater academic pressure, and a poor economic outlook. But by and large, teen stressors are the same as they have always been: relationship problems, grades, fitting in, family environment, and trauma.

Let’s look at a few common yet sneaky mental illnesses that may affect your teen and how to identify them.

1. Body Dysmorphia

Body dysmorphia is a growing issue with the prevalence of social media and doctored Instagram posts, even amid waves of body positivity and messages about self-acceptance.

Also dubbed body dysmorphic disorder, this mental health condition is characterized by an untrue self-image. It isn’t just that a teen with BDD does not like the way they look – in their eyes, they look completely different than what they might look like to others. A teen with BDD might starve themselves or work out excessively to try and conform to their ideal, unattainable self-image. Teens with body dysmorphia may also abuse substances to suppress their appetite or achieve a different figure, such as using anabolic steroids to build muscle quickly. Signs and symptoms of BDD include:

  • An excessive and extreme focus on physical appearance and repeated negative comments about their self-image.
  • Spending inordinate amounts of time checking and rechecking their appearance.
  • Hiding away from others or hiding their body with loose-fitting clothes and baggy clothing.
  • Not listening to affirmations from others, ignoring praise about their physical appearance/continuing to lament their appearance as ugly.

2. Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are often adjacent to body dysmorphia but are characterized primarily by an unhealthy relationship with food. Eating disorders are usually diagnosed as either binge eating disorderanorexiabulimiaavoidant restrictive food intake disorder, other specified eating disorders, or unspecified eating disorders.

Binge eating Disorder 

Binge eating disorder is characterized by a cycle of emotional lows and depressive symptoms culminating in an unhealthy binge eating session, leading to another cycle of low mood. Teens who are binge eating may hide their binges, keep food in their room, or store chocolate bars and snacks in their drawers.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder characterized by excessively restrictive calorie counting and starvation, including severe body image issues, such as seeing oneself as fat despite being dangerously underweight. Therefore, anorexia can be a life-threatening condition.

Bulima Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a cycle of self-starvation, binging, and purging behavior (through laxatives or self-induced vomiting). Frequent vomiting can also cause throat and dental damage, as well as create callouses on a teen’s index and middle finger knuckles.

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder is characterized by an unhealthily restrictive food intake. Teens with avoidant restrictive food intake are incredibly picky about what they eat, to the point that it causes dramatic weight loss and physical health problems. These problems are progressive, meaning the list of acceptable foods becomes smaller over time. Teens with avoidant restrictive food intake are not necessarily worried about body image, but may be worried about choking on their food, or react nauseously to normal foods for no discernable reason. Choosing to cut out certain foods for health or moral reasons (such as a keto diet or veganism) is not a disorder.

Other Specific or Unspecified Eating Disorders

Other specific or unspecified eating disorders may be applied as a label to teens with disordered eating habits that do not yet fit an established profile, fit into multiple disorders at once, or in cases where more information is needed to determine a teen’s condition.

Eating disorders need to be addressed professionally. They can be life-threatening and can cause lasting physical harm.

3. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is a well-known condition in children and teens, but it can present itself in subtle ways that often evade diagnosis for years. Teens learn to cope with their ADHD symptoms over time, continuing to mask them well into adulthood.

However, untreated ADHD can be a great risk to teens because it is often associated with a much higher risk of comorbid mental health problems, including depression and substance use disorder.

One of the primary symptoms of teen ADHD is recurring disorganization. Being disorganized or clumsy is not just a personality trait – if your teen is consistently bad with time management, constantly misplaces their belongings, dodges, or misses deadlines all the time, and is actively anxious about these things (i.e., they are worried, and trying, but their behavior does not change), they may be struggling with ADHD.

Executive functioning problems are another common sign of ADHD in teens. Executive functioning refers to the ability to utilize one’s working memory, flexibility, and self-control to go about their life, including making and coordinating schedules and plans, prioritizing tasks effectively, demonstrating emotional control, effective self-monitoring, focusing on a task at a time, and being flexible about schedule changes.

Teens with ADHD can still learn to develop and hone these skills, but they may have a harder time doing so than their peers. Executive functioning can also be impacted by other problems, such as depression, abuse, or trauma.

4. Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder is another term for addiction. Addiction in teens may occur as a result of comorbid conditions, such as an anxiety disorder, PTSD, or depression, or as a result of a combination of environmental factors (socioeconomics, trouble at home, parental disconnect) and inner factors (genetics, family history, addiction at home).

Signs of a substance use disorder in teens can vary. Drug paraphernalia is one common sign, from hidden bongs to a bottle of vodka under the bed. Consistently coming home too late, coming home drunk or high multiple times, and experiencing physical symptoms of recurring drug use – from bloodshot eyes to memory loss – are also important signs.

When To Get Help

Mental illnesses in teens are treatable, and regardless of what your teen is going through, the first step of that treatment is compassion. Help your teen understand that you are in their corner and want them to feel better. They need to internalize that your goal isn’t to punish them, but to help.

In some cases, it can be difficult to convince your teen that you’re on their side. Some conditions make it harder to help teens get help than others, including addiction, personality disorders, and conduct disorders. Working with a mental health professional beforehand can help you come up with the best way to intervene on your teen’s behalf and get them to see things your way.

For more information, contact Visions Treatment Centers today.

Substance Abuse

How Do Drugs Affect the Brain of a Teenager

We’ve all grown up learning that drugs are bad. Whether bluntly or in detail, there’s a point in any person’s life when they hear about the things drugs can do, and how they affect the brain, the body, and the mind. Yet despite the horror stories, plenty of people still do drugs. Now we dissect how do drugs affect the brain of a teenager. 

Adolescents use drugs, ranging from a few drinks to illegal substances like cocaine, and heavily regulated and addictive prescription drugs like fentanyl. Understanding how drugs affect the brain, especially in kids, can help us understand why people continue to use them despite the long-term consequences, both physical and legal.

How Do Drugs Affect the Brain of a Teenager?

We know that age is a risk factor for addiction – in particular, the age when you first start using drugs. The earlier a person has their first illegal drug experience, the higher their likelihood of struggling with addiction later in adulthood. Some of this can be traced back to environmental reasons. If you are around a lot of drug users in the family or the neighborhood as a child, you will have more opportunities to use drugs as you enter your teen years and adulthood. Certain socioeconomic conditions and stressful households are more likely to create addicted teens as well. Other risk factors that play a role include family history, and mental health.

But if you take two people from the same household, and introduce drugs earlier to one than the other, that person has a higher chance of getting addicted in the long-term. Conversely, adults who have their first drug experience in their late 20s and onwards are much less likely to continue using drugs and developing an addiction. A lot of this has to do with the way drug use imprints on the developing brain of a teen or young adult, all the way to the age of 25, give or take a year.

We know that neurology plays a significant role in the way drugs work – and that there are distinct biological differences between individuals. Younger people are more likely to try drugs when exposed to them, and more likely to keep using them following early exposure. Aside from having a greater impact on teens than adults, early drug use can also play a role in negatively affecting the development of the brain. This means affecting teen cognition (thinking), as well as problem solving, information processing, and long-term learning skills.

Teenage Risk-Taking and Drugs

While individual factors cannot be overlooked, generalized risk factors help us better understand what to look out for when treating an addiction, and when recognizing one in the first place. We understand that internal risk factors play a significant role in the development of substance use disorder, and that the factor of age may tie into the immaturity of the teenage brain. The correlation between brain maturity and risk taking ties into how drugs can affect the brain of a teenager. 

The portion of the brain that is incomplete in teens is called the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the brain’s decision-making center, which means it is also a crucial element for risk assessment and long-term planning. While incomplete, this doesn’t mean teens are incapable of thinking about the future or making good decisions. It just means that their brain hasn’t matured to its final stage. Teens are inherently less likely to judge risks accurately, and more likely to take them – for no good reason at all. This is why communication with adolescents is vital.

Their reward systems, on the other hand, are fully functional. This means that the addictive effects of drug use can power through the brain at full steam while the parts of the brain responsible for risk assessment and longer-term decision making can’t keep up. Does this mean teens are always in the wrong? Absolutely not. Does it absolve them of the consequences of their actions? Again, no. An immature brain is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, but it is meant to contextualize the increased impact of drug use on teenagers in particular, and why early use conflates so often with long-term drug habits.

Drug Dependence, Tolerance, and Physical Addiction in Teens

The brain is a very complex organ, and we aren’t yet at a point where we can confidently say that we understand every aspect of it, let alone the different ways in which it can potentially malfunction. The mechanism of action behind multiple different psychiatric conditions and even certain drugs is not completely understood. But what we do know helps us make better decisions regarding the treatment and care of people with different neurological conditions, including substance use disorder.

Drug use can temporarily impact and change the way the brain works, desensitizing it to the natural reward system and creating a dangerous feedback loop based on growing drug tolerance, higher dosages, dependence symptoms, and withdrawal symptoms. Addiction can be understood either:

  • Mentally or physically, as a battle between the constant craving and urge to drink or use.
  • Neurological compulsion triggered by changes in the brain that occur as a result of long-term drug use.

All of this occurs in the adult brain just as it does in the teen brain, but teenagers may be more susceptible to both the short-term effects of drugs, as well as their addictive nature.

Other Health Effects of Drug Use in Teenagers

The brain is far from the only organ affected by teenage drug use. The heart, lungs, liver, kidney, and bones are just a few of the organs and systems of the body that suffer under the recurring use of addictive substances. All of them tend to leave a lasting impact on the body in some way, and because teens are prone to getting addicted faster than their adult counterparts, they may suffer physical symptoms as a result of their drug use at a quicker rate than someone discovering drugs later in life.

If you or someone you know is struggling with uncontrolled drug use, it’s important to get professional help as soon as possible. Substance use disorder can become debilitating and disabling and leave lasting scars. Early detection and treatment can not only save a life, but greatly improve quality of life in the long-term.

Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse Disorder Among Teens

Teenage substance use is an unfortunately common problem. But teen substance abuse disorder is an entirely different beast. Teens who struggle with addiction at a young age are more likely to relapse and experience long-term cravings and may have a harder time distancing themselves from drug use as they get older. Addictive substances affect the teenage brain disproportionately, and teens are more likely to develop a lasting addiction if their first-time experience was at a young age, versus adults who first experienced addictive drugs in their late twenties and onwards. But it isn’t all bleak.

Treatment and therapy can help teens arm themselves with the tools necessary to break and overcome addiction. Substance use can be overcome through long-term support, effective coping mechanisms, recurring individual, and group therapy sessions, and by addressing adjacent or concurrent mental health issues, indefinitely. Helping kids develop a greater sense of awareness for their own mental and physical wellbeing and foster important self-care habits can protect them from relapses and stressful situations and prepare them for the oncoming challenges of adulthood. It’s crucial to identify potential a substance abuse disorder in teens early and get them the help they need.

How Common Is Substance Abuse Disorder in Teens?

According to recent data published by the CDC, at least about 15 percent of high school teens have self-reported using an illicit drug at least once (drugs like cocaine, inhalants, heroin, methamphetamine, ecstasy, or illegal hallucinogens), and a surprising 14 percent have admitted to misusing prescription opioidsAside from “hard” drugs, over two-thirds of teens have tried alcohol by the 12th grade, and about half of the teens in grades 9 through 12 have reported trying marijuana. Although illegal, reports find that people aged 12 to 20 account for one-tenth of all alcohol consumption in the US. While trying drugs doesn’t translate directly into drug abuse, there is an obvious correlation.

Because it is difficult to pinpoint the transition between harmful substance use and a substance use disorder, studies currently place the prevalence of addiction in the general population between 15 and 61 percent, a significant portion of which includes teens. Co-occurring mental health issues sharply increase the risk of a substance use problem. An estimated 30 to 45 percent of teenagers with a mental health disorder have a co-occurring substance use disorder, and about 65 percent of adolescents with a history of substance abuse also struggle with a co-occurring mental health disorder. While we do know that illicit drug use has mostly gone down over time, some drugs have picked up speed in recent years, and the long-term effects of the pandemic on adolescent drug use are yet to be fully understood. Teen addiction is a potentially growing issue, and one we must address decisively.

Why Substance Use Affects Teens Differently

An apt way to describe the adolescent brain would be as a car with a fully functioning gas pedal (the brain’s reward systems) and an incomplete braking system (the prefrontal cortex, especially risk assessment and decision making). Every parent knows that teenagers are only all too keen to jump headfirst into situations without proper thinking and seem almost incapable of working out the long-term consequences of any potential action before they take it. While a lot of that ties into lack of basic life experience – and the importance of good life lessons – part of it is also neurobiology.

Teenagers don’t think ahead very well because they can’t do it as naturally as the average adult. That doesn’t mean all adults are automatically wiser and more careful than any given teen. But it does mean that, physically, teens are more likely to pursue short-term reward and forget about the ensuing long-term problems that might occur as a result of that decision. It also means that the teenage brain is still in development, and that the parts that are in development are crucial for risk assessment, executive functioning and decision making – all of which fundamentally represent what it means to be a self-sufficient human being.

Drug use can significantly impede and affect the brain’s development, cause delays, and can negatively impact a teen’s cognitive abilities in the long-term – even more so than in an adult, provided all other circumstances are the same. While illicit drug use is not good under any circumstances, it is especially bad for adolescents and young adults. Preventing early drug use can protect your teen from the long-term consequences of addiction, and the effects that addictive drugs can have on the brain – let alone the social impact of early drug use and addiction on a teen, from an increased chance of unprotected sex, unwanted pregnancies, and STDs, to a dramatic dip in academic performance, legal troubles, and long-term career consequences.

Risk Factors for Substance Abuse Disorder Among Teens

Substance use issues in teens are often associated with crucial protective and risk factors. These could also be seen as the most common “causes” of addiction.

Risk Factors

  • Genetics
  • Poor parental relationship
  • Authoritarian parenting
  • Uninvolved parenting
  • Socioeconomic background
  • Bullying
  • Mental health disorders

Protective Factors

  • Positive parental relationship
  • Strong attachment to community
  • Parental monitoring
  • Authoritative parenting
  • Community interventions

It’s impossible to weigh the relevance of any given factor because they depend on an individual’s case. In some cases, one factor may play a disproportionate role over another. The prevalence of certain risk factors also plays an important role in treatment. A co-occurring mental health issue changes a teen’s substance use into a dual diagnosis, meaning their case would be treated with special consideration given to both their addiction and their disorder. Treating these conditions separately would not be effective – an individualized plan that treats both concurrently is needed.

Getting Help for Teen Substance Abuse Disorder

If you recognize any signs of substance use in your teen – from paraphernalia to a dismissive or defensive attitude about drug use, erratic behavior, frequent disappearances, gaps in memory, signs of drinking or smoking, and symptoms of long-term drug use – it’s important to talk to them about getting help together. Some teens might not realize their habit has become uncontrollable until it’s too late, and others might hide their drug use due to fear of getting reprimanded, thrown out of school, or vilified by family. Make it clear to your teen that you’re in their corner, and that you want them to beat their addiction and live a life they can truly enjoy on their own terms. If you can’t get through to your loved one, consider approaching a clinic or treatment specialist about intervention.

Substance Abuse

How to Tell if Your Child Is Using Drugs

If you notice a sudden change in your teen’s behavior or attitude, you may be wondering how to tell if your child is using drugs. Teen drug use is a divisive yet prevalent issue. While overall illegal drug use is at its lowest in two decades, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still widespread. Research indicates that nearly two-thirds of college students regularly use alcohol, and over a quarter regularly use marijuana, while as many as half of all teens have tried weed at least once, and nearly all have tried drinking. In this article, we’re exploring a common question we hear from parents – how to tell if your child is using drugs?

How to Tell if Your Child Is Using Drugs

We’ve all been teens, and we know what comes with that age. Things are confusing, exciting, difficult, and overwhelming. Teens experiment, think little of the long-term consequences of their decision and try to push the envelope. They’re discovering themselves and the world around them. And it’s often up to the adults around them to try and keep them safe as they’re making their way towards adulthood. But what does that mean, exactly? It means keeping an eye out for the signs – and acting on them in a timely manner. The earlier a teen’s substance use issues are discovered, the faster they can be addressed, and the less severe the long-term consequences. Here’s how to tell if your child is using drugs.

Look Out for Paranoia and Confusion

Teen mood swings and behavioral changes are normal. But there are certain behaviors and patterns that are more suspicious than others. Look out for frequent bouts of confusion, sudden episodes of anxiety, and paranoid behavior. Even if your teen isn’t having a drug problem, the onset of anxiety symptoms still warrants seeing a professional together. Anxiety and depressive disorders often begin around adolescence.

Look for Lapses in Memory and Cognitive Signs

Alcohol, stimulant drugs, and depressant drugs alike all affect the brain in different ways, but the one thing they have in common is a cognitive decline and memory issues. Frequent binge drinking, illegal use of stimulants and “study drugs”, as well as frequent recreational use of anxiety medication or CBD can impact memory retention, cause holes and lapses in memory, and affect a teen’s ability to solve problems, retain information, and communicate effectively. These can be short-term issues, but the longer an addiction lasts, the longer these effects can linger in the brain.

Drug Paraphernalia

The most obvious sign of drug use is drug paraphernalia – and some types of paraphernalia are more obvious than others. Keep an eye out for:

  • Rolling papers, filters, e-cigarettes, and bongs.
  • Spoons, needles, tourniquets, and pipes.
  • Tubes, razor blades, and small mirrors.
  • Aerosol cans, rags that faintly smell like solvents, and chemical bottles.

Alongside commonly used drugs like alcohol, nicotine, and marijuana, teens also use:

  • MDMA or Ecstasy
  • ADHD medication
  • Anxiety medication
  • Painkillers
  • Solvents and inhalants
  • Cocaine and other designer stimulants
  • Methamphetamine
  • Heroin

Becoming Defensive and Irritable

Drugs can help soothe anxieties, trigger euphoric feelings, and transport people into a completely different state of mind. But these pleasant experiences are undercut by immediate short-term and lasting long-term consequences, ranging from brain damage to organ health issues, psychological and physical dependence, withdrawal symptoms, increases in anxiety and depression, physical reactions, and much more.

Some of these are more obvious than others – but one of the first signs of recurring drug use and growing addiction is a spike in irritability and defensiveness. If your teen is becoming angrier and angrier, and less and less communicative, then something might be wrong. Talk to them, remain calm, express your love, and try to get to the bottom of what they’re feeling. Be sure that they understand that you’re only interested in what’s best for them, now and in the long term.

It can be really difficult to get a teen to admit that they’re using drugs, let alone that they’re addicted. Teens know that it’s illegal and that they shouldn’t be doing it. Part of the reason it’s so frustrating for them is that they’ve lost control, and they’re lashing out in anger at both others and themselves. Be patient, and expect to talk to your teen multiple times before you get to figure out what’s going on.

Why Teen Drug Use Is a Massive Issue

On a purely medical level, the adolescent brain is far more susceptible to the long-lasting impact of addictive drugs, particularly when it comes to creating dependence. Teenagers who use drugs are more likely to become addicted to them later in life versus people who first used drugs in their early to mid-twenties, and they’re far more prone to poor decision making and excessive risk-taking, from unsafe sex to drunk driving and reckless endangerment of themselves and others.

This is partly because the teen brain is not yet wired to take long-term consequences into account. Risk-averse behavior is rare in teens, and the adolescent brain hasn’t fully matured to think things through to the same capacity as the adult brain. That does not mean that teens are incapable of realizing their consequences, or even understanding the risks involved with certain decisions – it just means they’re less likely to act on this information, are more likely to forget about it, and much less likely to care.

Preventing Drug Use in Teens

Parents tend to overestimate the impact of peer pressure and forget the invaluable influence they wield themselves. Even as your teens seem to pull away from you and feel increasingly distant, it’s important to realize that teens are still much more likely to model their parents’ behavior when with their peers and that their parents have a strong influence on who they choose to be friends with, as well. This depends mostly on a good parent-child relationship. This is perhaps the most powerful protective factor against teen substance use issues. Other important protective factors include:

  • A strong attachment to the neighborhood (involvement in youth groups, local firefighting, outreach programs, volunteering organizations).
  • Research-based prevention programs.
  • An authoritative (not authoritarian!) parenting approach.
  • Local policies affecting structural racism, economic opportunity, and police bias.

Of course, it’s also important to be realistic. Nearly half of all teens try an illegal drug, and almost all teens get a taste of alcohol before they’re legally allowed to drink. That doesn’t mean the majority of teenagers struggle with lifelong drug addiction and poor outcomes. These are just a few weighty risk factors among a list of important risk factors that increase the risk of a teen becoming addicted but never guarantee it. Understand what these risk factors represent, and how certain protective factors can work against them.

If your teen is addicted to drugs, know that recovery is a long-term process. There are many inpatient and outpatient clinics that specialize in treating dual diagnosis disorders in teens. These clinics can help equip both you and your teen with the tools needed to combat addiction in the long term, survive and overcome relapse, and develop a series of coping mechanisms to deal with daily stressors, and control cravings and impulses.  Professional help should never be stigmatized or frowned upon. Get yourself and your teen the help you both deserve.

Holidays Parenting Prevention 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.

Relapse Prevention During the Holidays Starts With Avoiding 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, effective relapse prevention during the holidays includes coping strategies that minimize and recontextualize triggers to help 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 relapse triggers, such as:

  • Hunger
  • Boredom
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Fatigue

Stress the importance of taking care of oneself, and looking after one’s needs.

Minimizing 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.

Identifying and Setting 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.

Balancing 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.

Remembering That Recovery Is a Life-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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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 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 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)


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


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.