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Published: 4 March 2015

Teenage Addictions and How to Help

There are many areas of psychological issues we deal with at Go Psychology and amongst those are problems with addictions, both in adults and teenagers. Teenagers are most vulnerable to becoming addicted, whether it be to drugs, alcohol, video games, or social media, and peer pressure is often the cause.

Teenagers experiment and will start to display their independence. As teenagers transition from children into adulthood, they will sometimes be tempted by activities they see adults taking part in. Drugs and alcohol frequently are involved in this experimentation.

Many teenagers will turn to marijuana, prescription drugs, club drugs, alcohol or other substances. Seventy percent of high school students have had at least one alcoholic beverage, and they are often with their friends when they drink. A 2009 survey in the US, showed a quarter of students in grades nine through 12 had been “offered, sold or given an illegal drug by someone on school property.”

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Teenagers and young adults get involved with alcohol and drugs for many reasons. Some examples include:

  • Curiosity: They want to know what it feels like to get high or be drunk.
  • Peer pressure: Their friends are doing it.
  • Acceptance: Their parents or role models are doing it.
  • Defiance: They want to rebel against societal rules.
  • Risk-taking behaviors: They need to send out a call for help.
  • Thrill-seeking activities: They want to experience something other than numbness.
  • Boredom: They feel they have done everything else exciting.
  • Independence: They want to make their own decisions.
  • Pleasure: They want to feel good.

Most high school students, research indicates up to 70%,  have had at least one alcoholic beverage, and are often with their friends when they consume alcohol. The first instance of drug use may be fun, according to some teenagers, however  the behavior can quickly turn into substance abuse and addiction, and ultimately may necessitate treatment.

Teenagers rarely consider the long-term damage they can do to themselves, their families and their communities.  The reason for this is due the adolescent brain being underdeveloped which means that they are more impulsive than when their brains become more developed.  Teenagers  frequently make choices based on what will make them belong socially rather than on what is best for them.

If you are a parent of a teen with a drinking problem or drug addiction, you need to keep reading.

Teen Influences on Drug and Alcohol Use

Despite new laws, zero tolerance policies and stronger community education programs, teen exposure to drugs and alcohol continues to rise. These substances are seen at social gatherings, at sporting events and at friends’ homes. They play a role in television programs, video games and celebrity gossip magazines. Some of the most critical forms of influence, however, come from a teen’s peer group and role models.

Using Drugs and Peer Pressure

At any age, teenagers want to be liked and accepted by the people around them. They want to be part of the popular group. Teens especially crave this approval because it makes the difficult teenage years a little bit more bearable. This desire to fit in forms one a key issue for teenagers.  Social belonging is a strong driver for children from a young age and is even more important during the teenage years.

Imagine you find yourself with someone you trust and admire. You are handed a bong, a bottle or a needle and offered a place in the crowd. Even the most upstanding student may be tempted to try, just this once.

Teens give in to peer pressure many reasons, including:

  • Fear of rejection
  • Not wanting to be made fun of
  • Not wanting to lose a friend
  • Not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings
  • The desire to appear grown up
  • The desire to appear in control
  • Not having a clear picture of what they desire
  • Not understanding how to avoid or handle a situation

Girls are more likely to give into peer pressure than boys, but both genders are susceptible. Even if you have tried to stay clear of drugs or alcohol before, peer pressure can be difficult for teenagers to ignore.

Parental Examples for Alcohol and Drug Use

Parental pressure to try drugs and alcohol can be even more traumatic than peer pressure..

Few mothers and fathers hand their children illegal substances. Manufacturing, selling, possessing or taking drugs sends the message that drugs and alcohol are okay. Some parents try to hide their stash or use only when the children are not around. The effect is virtually the same as if they had become high or drunk out in the open.

At the same time, drinking is something that isn’t often hidden. A few beers or a few glasses of wine are socially acceptable for adults. When these actions peak to the point of endangering a child or causing self-harm, they also send a loud message to the teenager in the house.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Teens who drink or do drugs can develop addictions.  Drug use is a common problem among teens and young adults in Australia. It is not uncommon for children to be exposed to those selling or using drugs, so it is important to make sure that teens understand the dangers of drug use. When teens and young adults start using drugs, many problems can arise, from poor school results and relationship problems to dangerous health situations and criminal behavior.

Effects on Health

Abusing illegal drugs or alcohol adds stress to the mind and body. The personal health risks of drug and alcohol abuse cannot be stressed enough.

The human body and brain are still developing throughout the teenage years. While even one beer or one joint can cause minor impairments, the most devastating consequences occur from repeat or extended usage. For instance, heavy alcohol drinking can damage the cerebellum, leading to poor coordination; reduce the size of the hippocampus, leading to memory loss; and damage the frontal cortex, leaving a cognitive deficiency throughout adulthood.

Other health impacts include:

  • Depression
  • Trouble remembering
  • Hallucinations
  • Blackouts
  • Nausea
  • Aggression
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Car crashes
  • Accidental injuries
  • Self-inflicted wounds
  • Diseases
  • Suicide

Teenagers who enter into treatment early have the best odds for detoxifying and limiting health risks

Prevention and Treatment (Rehabilitation)

Just a few poor decisions can harm the rest of your life. Instead of continuing down the current path, consider the consequences.

If you have not yet taken your first drug or tried a drop of alcohol, don’t start. Talk with a trusted adult about ways to cope with peer pressure situations or just avoid them altogether.

If you have experimented with chemical highs, find a way to replace the feeling while you are still in control. Therapy can help you uncover your reasons for doing drugs and help you locate alternatives.

Comments about teenage addictions by Dr Paul Bowden – Clinical Psychologist – of Go Psychology (Robina, Gold Coast)

One of the most common ways that a child and adolescent will learn is through modelling, so adolescents will do what they see their parents, and others doing.  This is a very important point when it comes to addictions.

Adolescents will probably experiment with drugs or alcohol at some point, and for the most part this is normal behaviour.  As a parent, if you are concerned about your teenagers behaviour, then seek advice from a Clinical Psychologist.

In my opinion, addictions of all kinds can be prevented by channelling your childrens’ energies into their hobbies.  The hobbies need to be healthy ones such as sport or music.  Try and stay away from video games. For activities such as social media and video games parents should put boundaries in place and limit the time of these activities. Adolescents should help around the home and learn to contribute rather than having everything done for them. They should learn the values of work, money, and health.  They should be educated continuously during their upbringing about making choices, and we need to be aware that they are going to make bad choices at times, as we all do (even us adults).

Parents and other important adults should continually talk with teenager and keep the communication channels open.

Teenagers without goals and dreams are more likely to turn to unhealthy addictions to cope.

Preventing teenage addictions:

If you want to prevent your adolescent from developing an addiction, teach them self control, help them to set life goals and dreams, teach them the benefits of moderation, be a good role model, spend quality time with them, allow them to develop into adults in a natural and supportive way, put rules in places around socialising, social media etc, and teach them resilience skills to address peer pressure.

Call us on (07) 55809212 24 hours a day 7 days a week for any inquiries. We also operate an outreach service.

Article by Dr Paul Bowden, Clinical Psychologist and Director of Go Psychology Robina on the Gold Coast.

To assist parents and teenagers we have made this article Teenage Addictions and How to Help available as a PDF, you can download the article for reference purposes by clicking on the link.

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