Why Should I Worry About Teen Addiction?
The word “addiction” is often treated nonchalantly. Teens claim they’re addicted to boys, girls, shopping or video games. And while these matters can consume a teenage in very real way, there are thousands more who have addictions to illicit drugs and other substances that are jeopardizing their lives on a much deeper level. What may start off as a casual use of substances can turn into a dependence — when the brain only functions in the presence of that drug and compels a person to use it. If you can spot the signs of addiction in your teen, you may be able to mitigate some of the consequences.
What Are the Consequences?
Drug and alcohol use is a complex game of Russian roulette. The signs may not be apparent and your teen’s issues can fly under the radar for weeks, months or even years. Eventually, without notice, an addiction may develop and everything can fall apart. For a teenager, this can make a previously bright future become incredibly hazy.
Even short bouts of substance use have the potential to wreak havoc on a teen’s body. While different drugs and substances can affect the body in a variety of ways, sickness can occur for even those who use these casually. In some cases, even one use may be enough for an overdose, which is when the user’s bloodstream is teeming with toxins and the body can’t detoxify itself quick enough to be able to function properly. Overdose can be fatal. And all of that could happen with just one use. Prolonged abuse of drugs and alcohol can have even more significant side effects on the body.
How the Immune System Is Affected
Abusing drugs and alcohol over an extended period of time can have significant side effects on the immune system.
Long-term alcohol abuse can impair several aspects of the immune system in several ways, including:
- Digestion – It can damage cells in the digestive tract, greatly inhibiting how the body secretes enzymes for digestion.
- Handling of vitamins and protein – Along with slowing down how the body absorbs necessary protein, it can slow down and damage the liver, which affects how effectively it stores essential vitamins.
- Reduction in white blood cells – It can greatly reduce the body’s white blood cell multiplication rate, which can impact how the body responds to cancers and other life-threatening diseases
While different kinds of drugs have varying effects on the immune system, long-term drug abuse is dangerous. Its effects include:
- Respiratory and lung damage – Because of inhalation — especially concerning the toxins of marijuana smoke — the damage to lungs can be dramatic. Inflammation of the lungs and damage to the bronchioles are common.
- Dehydration – Certain drugs — methamphetamines in particular — can dry out the body’s mucous membranes, leaving the user vulnerable to infections and diseases
- Exhaustion and insomnia – Certain drugs greatly affect the body’s sleeping habits. When sleep deprivation occurs at dangerous levels, the immune system is weakened and the body becomes susceptible to all sorts of diseases.
Any and all of these effects greatly elevates a teen’s risk of acquiring HIV and AIDS. The liver is also vulnerable to infections such as Hepatitis B and C. All of these can have snowball effects on the body, further pushing the body to susceptibility to infections, tumors and other health problems.
How the Heart Is Affected
By elevating heart rate and disrupting heartbeat (i.e. causing arrhythmia), certain substances can deliver their highs at the expense of hearth health. Even casual and recreational use over time can have profound effects on the heart. An addiction only amplifies these effects.
Cocaine in particular is dubbed “the perfect heart attack drug” for a number of reasons. Abusing the drug can cause an 18% increase in the thickness of the ventricle wall and over a 30% increase in the stiffening of the aorta — 2 major factors that increase risks of heart attack and stroke.
Other drugs like amphetamine and ecstasy also impact long-term cardiovascular health by elevating heart rate and increasing blood pressure, both of which increase risks of heart disease and stroke.
How the Brain Is Affected
The effects of drug and alcohol use are perhaps strongest in the brain, which is where the initial rush of toxic chemicals is first felt. Prolonged abuse of these substances impact the structure and function of the brain. And considering that adolescence is when the brain is malleable and still developing, any alterations to the brain during this time can have long-lasting implications. In particular, heavy drug or alcohol use during this time in the teen’s development can hinder motor skills, logic, reasoning and memory function. These effects may manifest in your teen even as they mature into adulthood.
Studies indicate that there may be a correlation between heavy drug use and co-occurring mental disorders. In some instances, how the brain is remapped and reconfigured over years of drug- or alcohol-dependent behavior can keep the brain in an altered state. This is what happens in certain cases of long-term cocaine or meth use, where panic attacks and hallucinations persist even after the person has long-stopped using the drugs.
Most glaringly, a teen’s mental health can deteriorate over time with substance abuse and addiction, leading to issues like depression, withdrawal and extreme irritability. The risk of teen suicide increases when substance abuse causes chemical imbalances in the brain. This dependency on drugs — especially the craving of the effects of those drugs — can make the user feel low when the high wears off. These severe highs and lows contribute to feelings of depression, a general lack of interest and worries that the world is out to get them. Studies show that 70% of teen suicides are influenced in one way or another by drug and alcohol abuse.
How School Is Affected
In some cases, teens turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with the anxiety of school and the social expectations of adolescence. Unfortunately, this can backfire physically and academically. Consumed by addiction, they will often make school an afterthought. When the consequences of drug use are especially evident, they can show up to class high or hungover or skip school entirely to go out and feed their problem some more. In doing so, they can expect to see their grades plummet along with their reputation among teachers, classmates and university recruiters. If their lack of effort becomes too blatant or if they get caught with substances on campus, they risk outright suspension or expulsion.
Trouble With the Law
Underage drinking — or possession of illicit substances in general — lands thousands of teens into legal hot water. The problem extends further: being caught up in drugs or alcohol can cause teens to act out in other ways that draw attention from law enforcement. Things like stealing, violent behavior and vandalism often correlate with being under the influence.
In one study by the National Institute of Justice, a substantial rate of drug use was found among teens who committed violent or property crimes. Another study of 113 delinquent youth in a state detention facility revealed that 82% reported being heavy drug or alcohol users just prior to their arrest. Teens may not consider that one drink has the potential to spiral into something worse.
How Are Family and Peers Affected
Drug abuse and addiction can also backfire for teens socially. Friends and family can be the most vital resources in a teen’s life and development. All too often, however, when teens get swept up in their drug and substance abuse habits, they lose sight of what’s most important. They may ignore family obligations, change social groups or cut themselves off entirely from their loved ones in constant pursuit of their next fix.
The effects that a drug or alcohol dependence have on the brain can lead to a plethora of social problems, including:
- Initiating uncomfortable conversations
- A lack of inhibitions
- Being stigmatized by their peers
- Disengaging from social functions
- Increased willingness to fight or argue
How Finances Are Affected
Money issues are often associated with addiction. As problems arise with school, law enforcement and your teen’s health, it can also drain the family’s financial and emotional resources, causing tension and stress. Under the spell of addiction, teens may resort to stealing money straight from the pockets of loved ones. The potential consequences of their substance habit can be traumatic enough; when an addiction pushes loved ones out of the picture, countless teens are left to deal with their problems alone.
When Should I Get Involved?
At the first signs of a substance problem in your teen, take action. It’s proven that substance abuse at an early age can spell addiction later in life. Among American adults who meet the medical criteria for addiction, 9 out of 10 started smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before age 18, according to a 2011 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.
If you notice signs of substance abuse in your child, talk to a professional immediately. This could be your family doctor, your child’s guidance counselor, a local rehab professional, or one of our treatment advocates who answer the phone at TeenRehabCenter.org. Talking to us is free and private.
We at TeenRehabCenter.org have spoken to too many families who initially believed their teen’s substance use was “just a phase.” Fortunately, we have also seen the joy of recovery — time and time again — but it does not often come without professional help. That’s why we’ve dedicated ourselves to families like yours. Whether you’d like help figuring out if your teen is dealing with addiction, you have questions about your teen’s schooling during treatment, you’d like a list of reputable rehab facilities, or you just need someone to talk to, we’re here for you. Don’t let another day go by without guiding your child to a better path in life — set up a time for yourself to call us for free today.
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- “National Study Reveals: Teen Substance Use America’s #1 Public Health Problem.”CASAColumbia. Columbia University, 29 June 2011. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
- “Addiction Research & Addiction Information Library.” CASAColumbia. Columbia University, Dec. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
- “Is Drug Addiction Treatment Worth Its Cost?” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). National Institutes of Health, Dec. 2012. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
- “Substance Abuse Prevention Dollars and Cents: A Cost-Benefit Analysis.” SAMHSA. US Department of Health and Human Services, 2008. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
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