A combination of peer pressure, stress and lack of information about the damaging effects of substance abuse puts the youth at an even greater risk for developing an addiction than adults. The adolescent brain is still in the developmental stage, particularly in the area that controls behavior and impulses, which is directly affected by most substances when used.
Though overall use of substances is down among teenagers, (according to the 2014 “Monitoring the Future” survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse), there are still areas for worry. Alcohol abuse has traditionally been a problem among the youth, as 19.4% of high school seniors report binge drinking in the previous month. Monitoring the use of e-cigarettes had only just started with the 2014 survey, but it is thought to be contributing to a rise in synthetic marijuana use. Marijuana is now the fourth most commonly used substance among all age groups, behind alcohol, marijuana and Adderall or inhalants depending on the specific age group.
The signs of substance abuse can vary depending on the type of drug being used, but there are some common signs that parents may readily notice. For example, adolescents who abuse drugs and alcohol often lose interest in taking care of their hygiene or personal appearance. Having a red face or red eyes without any medical explanation can also be an indication of substance abuse. Their clothes or breath may also begin to smell unusual.
Substance abusers often become more socially withdrawn and secretive. They may inexplicably disappear for long periods of time or take an unusual number of trips to the bathroom. Sudden changes in appetite or rapid loss in weight without explanation are also common signs. While most addictive drugs tend to suppress appetite, marijuana use can increase it.
Those who are injecting drugs will have track marks somewhere on their body, usually on their arms, legs or feet. They may also have paraphernalia such as rubber tubing, spoons and tin foil around. Smoking an addictive substance may cause white burn marks on the user’s lips or frequent burns on their fingers. Stimulant abusers often have inexplicable bursts of energy and talkativeness followed by low-energy “crash” periods.
Adolescents are often hesitant to get treatment. Self-image and the stigma associated with being labeled an addict are powerful barriers among this age group. They are also often not entirely aware of the extent of the problem. Treatment for teens is more frequently enforced by a court after matters have already escalated, rather than sought voluntarily.
Teenagers need a treatment program that understands their perspective and their unique concerns. A program that meets them at their level is much more likely to succeed. Generalized treatment programs are generally not well-equipped for handling younger individuals and cannot provide the safe environment necessary for them to work through their issues. For obvious reasons, mixing youths with adults in support groups is often not effective or appropriate.
Inpatient youth treatment is usually conducted in a facility that houses members of the same age group. It is also often beneficial to separate genders to eliminate distractions during the recovery process.
Programs that use the “boot camp” approach have shown to be ineffective. These programs damage the self-esteem of teens and only teach them to comply long enough to meet the requirements of the program, after which they tend to go back to using. Modern programs tailored to the youth, instead build their self-esteem and provide them with the internal drive to get off of substances for their own sake.
Youth programs also teach fundamental life and emotional skills that more generalized programs often overlook. Those who had spent their adolescent and teenage years using drugs are often in a state of arrested emotional development and have not yet fully matured mentally as adults.
Early intervention restrains teens from developing a crippling addiction that would require continual management for the rest of their lives. With appropriate early treatment, adolescents do not have to suffer from the fallout of substance abuse in their adult years.
Drug use, alcohol abuse and addiction in adolescents have been difficult to treat due to their varying levels of maturity and the hormonal changes that take place throughout teenage years. Evidence of the efficiency in adolescent treatment programs relies on the availability of holistic programs with varying healing therapies, age specific treatment services, and the use of different treatment modalities. Due to the fact that adolescent and adult substance abuse problems are often manifested differently, it is imperative that treatment programs be designed specifically for youth.
According to studies from KC Winters, “Adolescent brain research suggests that the prefrontal cortex—which monitors impulsivity, goal setting, reasoning, and judgment—is immature throughout the period of adolescence. Simultaneously, the nucleus accumbens is also still developing and may increase an adolescent’s tendency for thrill seeking [See Research].
Additional factors that are obstacles in recovery for youth are the lack of consistent quality youth specific treatment programs.
Early intervention services, including DUI classes, community services, educational classes, and drug abuse information.
Outpatient treatment: adolescents typically attend treatment for 6 hours a week or less for a period dependent on progress and the treatment plan. These treatment programs can also be used as relapse prevention in addiction recovery maintenance.
Intensive Outpatient programs: adolescents attend treatment during the day for up to 20 hours a week but live at home these programs can range in length from 2 months to 1 year.
Residential/inpatient treatment includes programs that provide rehab services in a residential setting lasting from 30 days to 90 days to an entire year.
Medically managed intensive inpatient treatment is appropriate for adolescents whose substance use, health, and emotional problems are so severe that they require 24-hour primary medical care for a length dependent on the adolescent’s progress.
Relapse among adolescent addicts and substance abuse patients who completed treatment programs is unfortunately high. Risk factors for adolescent addicts are classified in two ways: risks relating to treatment and risks relating to the individual.
Factors influenced by the treatment include factors specific to the adolescent’s treatment experience, such as:
Addiction aftercare for adolescents also has repeatedly shown to reduce the likelihood of relapse and enhance the maintenance of treatment gains.
Risk factors relating to the individual include:
For adolescents with higher risk factors alternative and modern therapies such as equine therapy, pet therapy, and Smart recovery have been proven effective when combined with traditional treatment models.
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