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Fighting Teen Addiction

Addiction can happen at any age, but it usually starts when a person is young.  If your teen continues to use drugs despite harmful consequences, he or she may be addicted.

If an adolescent starts behaving differently for no apparent reason—such as acting withdrawn, frequently tired or depressed, or hostile—it could be a sign he or she is developing a drug-related problem. Parents and others may overlook such signs, believing them to be a normal part of puberty. Other signs that your teen may have a drug problem include:

  • a change in peer group
  • carelessness with grooming
  • decline in academic performance
  • missing classes or skipping school
  • loss of interest in favorite activities
  • trouble in school or with the law
  • changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • deteriorating relationships with family members and friends

Through scientific advances, we know more than ever before about how drugs work in the brain. We also know that addiction can be successfully treated to help young people stop abusing drugs and lead productive lives. Intervening early when you first spot signs of drug use in your teen is critical; don’t wait for your teen to become addicted before you seek help. However, if a teen is addicted, treatment is the next step.

Repeated drug use changes the brain. Brain imaging studies of people with drug addictions show changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control. Quitting is difficult, even for those who feel ready.

Asking for help from professionals is the first important step

You can start by bringing your child to a doctor who can screen for signs of drug use and other related health conditions. You might want to ask in advance if he or she is comfortable screening for drug use with standard assessment tools and making a referral to an appropriate treatment provider. If not, ask for a referral to another provider skilled in these issues.

You can also contact an addiction specialist directly.  There are 3,500 board-certified physicians who specialize in addiction in the United States.  The American Society of Addiction Medicine website has a Find a Physician feature on its home page, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Finder on its website. You and the physician can decide if your teen or young adult should be referred to treatment.

It takes a lot of courage to seek help for a child with a possible drug problem because there is a lot of hard work ahead for both of you, and it interrupts academic, personal, and possibly athletic milestones expected during the teen years. However, treatment works, and teens can recover from addiction, although it may take time and patience. Treatment enables young people to counteract addiction’s powerful disruptive effects on their brain and behavior so they can regain control of their lives. You want to be sure your teen is healthy before venturing into the world with more independence, and where drugs are more easily available.

What to expect from a doctor visit
The doctor will ask your child a series of questions about use of alcohol and drugs, and associated risk behaviors (such as driving under the influence or riding with other drivers who have been using drugs or alcohol). The doctor might also give a urine and/or blood test to identify drugs that are being abused. This assessment will help determine the extent of a teen’s drug use (if any) and whether a referral to a treatment program is necessary.

There are medications available to treat addictions to alcohol, nicotine, and opioids (heroin and pain relievers). These are generally prescribed for adults but, in some circumstances, doctors may prescribe them for younger patients. When medication is available, it can be combined with behavioral therapy to ensure success for most patients. In addition, non-addictive medication is sometimes prescribed to help with withdrawal. Other medications are available to treat possible mental health conditions (such as depression) that might be contributing to your child’s addiction.

Your treatment provider will advise you about what medications are available for your particular situation. Some treatment centers follow the philosophy that they should not treat a drug addiction with other drugs, but research shows that medication can help in many cases.

You child’s treatment provider will probably recommend counseling. Behavioral treatment (also known as “talk therapy”) can help patients engage in the treatment process, change their attitudes and behaviors related to substance abuse, and increase healthy life skills. These treatments can also enhance the effectiveness of medications and help people stay in treatment longer.

Treatment for substance abuse and addiction can be delivered in many different settings using a variety of behavioral approaches. With adults, both individual therapy and group counseling settings with peers are used. However, studies suggest group therapy can be risky with a younger age group, as some participants in a group may have negative influence over the others, or even steer conversation toward stories about having fun with drugs. Some research suggests that the most effective treatments for teens are those that involve one or more family members present.

Whatever you do, do not ignore the warning signs of addiction. Getting your child help early-on can increase their chances of leading a productive life as an adult.

 

Source: National Institute of Health

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