It’s no secret that teens and young adults experiment with drugs and alcohol. October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, and it falls during a particularly devastating year: The COVID-19 pandemic is still going on, and protests against racial injustice have been steadily growing. Mental health is a problem for many teens this year, and when it’s at its worst, substance abuse can develop.
One in 7 young adults need teen drug addiction treatment, but many of them don’t get it. With quarantine and staying at home becoming the norm, more teens and young adults are drinking. Because substance abuse in teens can be especially devastating, prevention is crucial. Here we’ll explore how teens, young adults, and addiction tie together, and how you can help your child if they’re struggling.
Why is Teen Substance Abuse an Issue?
There are many reasons why teen and young adult addiction is troublesome. Substance use disorder is bad enough in adults, but when you’re a teen, it can be a precursor to other issues later in life.
Teens tend to turn to substances for the following reasons:
- Broken relationships (with both family and friends)
- Low self-esteem
- Trauma, loss, or grief
- Feelings of isolation or difficulty making friends
As a teenager, your brain is still developing, as well as your personality, likes, and dislikes. You’re figuring out who you are and who you want to be. Taking substances (both legal and illegal) at an early age can increase your chance of developing a tolerance to them later.
70% of young adults who try an illegal substance before age 13 end up having a substance use disorder. This is compared to 27% of young adults who try one after age 17.
Drugs and alcohol can affect a teen’s still-developing brain. Other issues that can develop from teen substance abuse include:
- Progressively worse substance abuse
- Unwanted pregnancy
- Polydrug use (the use of more drugs in conjunction with others)
- Legal trouble (i.e. DUI, jail time)
Risk Factors for Addiction in Teens and Young Adults
The earlier you start to use drugs and alcohol, the more likely you are to develop a dependence on them. Nine out of 10 Americans who meet addiction criteria began drinking or smoking before they turned 18.
Teens are also more likely to develop a substance use disorder when their parents are abusing substances as well. In fact, 26.8 million children in the U.S. are exposed to alcoholism by their families, and 1 in 5 adult Americans lived with an alcoholic relative at one point in their lives.
Teens who have chronic pain are at high risk for a substance use disorder. In addition, if teens are taking prescription drugs for surgery or after an accident, they could end up abusing them. 78% of teens said their doctor or dentist never spoke to them about how addictive or dangerous prescription drugs can be.
Existing mental health disorders are also major risk factors for teen substance abuse. As previously mentioned, symptoms of depression and anxiety can drive young adults to turn to substances for temporary relief.
The Addiction Stigma: Why Young Adults Don’t Get Teen Drug Addiction Treatment
People with a substance use disorder don’t want to admit it at first. This is mainly due to the stigma surrounding addiction. There is a belief in society that having an addiction is shameful.
Young adults fear that if they receive teen drug addiction treatment for their disorder, their friends and family will shun them. People will know about their addiction once they realize the person in question has a problem with drugs and alcohol.
The important thing to remember is that addiction is a disease, just like asthma or cancer. Any disease needs to be treated.
How Media is Addressing Addiction in Teens
MTV’s latest four-part TV series, “16 and Recovering,” follows students at Northshore Recovery High School. The Massachusetts school is specifically for young adults recovering from substance use disorder. Founder and principal Michelle Lipinski started the school in 2006 to get struggling teens the help they need instead of giving them jail time. In conjunction with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the show aims to show an authentic portrayal of addiction recovery.
However, the question is whether the show will actually better educate society about substance abuse among young adults. Student Shawn O’Neill passed away only three episodes into the show before filming finished. Will the students’ sudden fame and exposure trigger relapses? Will the show simply glamorize substance abuse?
Social Media’s Influence
Online platforms like TikTok have gained thousands of users, mainly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although most of the videos on TikTok are harmless and meant to look catchy, the recent “Benadryl challenge” went viral, leading to an increase in overdoses.
The challenge has urged viewers to take an excessive amount of Benadryl (diphenhydramine) so that they can hallucinate. Three teens overdosed on the over-the-counter antihistamine in May, and one 15-year-old reportedly died in August after participating in the challenge.
Not unlike the “Tide Pod challenge” that spread in 2018, the “Benadryl challenge” is an example of how much social media can influence people to do something, even if it’s unsafe. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a warning about the “Benadryl challenge,” saying that overdosing can cause heart problems, coma, seizures or even death. The FDA has also urged TikTok to remove any videos of it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean another viral challenge won’t replace this one.
Talking About Addiction with Your Child
If your child is struggling with an addiction, you might find it hard to figure out how to confront them about it. One way to start prevention is by talking to your children when they’re younger about substances. This can increase their chances of avoiding abuse in the future.
Listen and ask questions, but don’t lecture.
If we know our children are using drugs, we might feel tempted to give them the riot act. It’s natural to want to impart your wisdom on your children so they don’t make the same mistakes as you. However, this is a time to listen to your child’s struggles. Help them find the answers to their problems on their own.
Be sure to use reflective, nonjudgmental statements when talking to your child about substances. Ask questions about them and see what he or she says. Even if you don’t agree with every statement, just be sure that you’re listening.
Try to explore the reason why substance use happened.
Did they drink or use drugs to soothe anxiety or connect with their peers? Maybe they felt stressed or depressed. Ask your child what’s on their mind so that you can understand why they turned to substances. Showing curiosity will also make your child feel less judged. They can also gain some insight into their behaviors, and you can eventually enlist the help of a professional.
Know when to step in.
If you know that your child’s addiction is serious, it’s time to get an assessment from their doctor. Although you want to encourage your child to be open, you also need to know when to take action. Giving a clear message that your child has a problem will let them know that they need help.
Creating a Recovery Plan for Your Teen
Once you and your child have established they have an addiction, it’s time to get teen drug addiction treatment. If they have a serious addiction, enrolling in a detox program is the best option. Many facilities offer programs for young adults that provide flexibility. This will let them work around their class schedule.
Once detox is complete, the real work of recovery begins. Think about talking to your child about participating in family therapy. Here, the whole family can heal together as a whole. Participating in support groups after teen drug addiction treatment will also help your child stay sober and keep themselves accountable.
If your child does decide to go to teen drug addiction treatment, they are going to need support from you. Offer to drive them to therapy sessions, and check in on them if they’re in residential treatment.
Seeking Help for Addiction During COVID-19
Increase in Online Usage
Americans of all ages reported drinking more during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Staying home has increased online usage among both teens and adults. In the first few weeks of March 2020, in-home data usage increased by 18%, compared to the same period in 2019. About 37% of people in the U.S. reported using their laptops more due to the pandemic.
Teens who have started the school year virtually might be missing the in-person interactions with their peers and teachers. If your teen has an existing mental health disorder or substance use disorder, quarantining might make their symptoms worse. This can lead to drug and alcohol abuse among young adults.
There are a few things you can do with your child that aren’t focused around partying and using harmful substances.
Find activities to enjoy that don’t involve substances.
Teens are more likely to dabble in drugs and alcohol when they’re bored or don’t have much else going on. Go on a walk, ride your bikes, or have a game night. Keeping your child busy and engaged can prevent them from turning to harmful activities.
Just because you’re staying at home doesn’t mean you can’t have strong bonds. Make sure you keep in touch with family and friends through FaceTime, Zoom, Google Meet, and other video platforms.
Try telehealth counseling.
If you’re struggling with mental health issues and are unable to leave your home, telehealth counseling can help. Apps like TalkSpace and BetterHelp can offer virtual counseling at affordable rates, and your own therapists might also be able to provide virtual sessions.
Teen Drug Addiction Treatment
There’s no guarantee that your child will accept help for a substance use disorder, but you can utilize public resources and guides.