According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug use among teenagers in the U.S. has steadily declined.1 Despite falling overall numbers, however, the statistics bear out that many teens, ages 14 to 19, still frequently abuse substances, especially alcohol and marijuana.1
Four of 10 high school seniors reported drinking alcohol in 2016, and more than 1 in 5 engaged in regular binge drinking.2 By 12th grade, 50% of teenagers have abused an illicit, prescription, or other household substance.2
Even though these numbers are lower than previous years, they still indicate a serious problem with teen substance use, abuse, and addiction in the U.S. Teenage addiction also carries with it a unique set of consequences on physical, mental, emotional, and social levels.
It begins harmlessly enough…simple curiosity. But for some, curiosity turns to recreation, which all too often turns into abuse, dependence, and addiction. For teenagers, the process of engaging in illicit or prescription drug use is particularly hazardous to their health because their bodies and minds are still developing. The toxic influence of substances like alcohol, marijuana, and other illicit drugs can have long-term effects by literally altering brain chemistry and, as a result, numerous complex developmental processes—potentially impacting personality, behavior, and cognitive abilities.3
Although drug experimentation may represent a conscious choice, extended periods of abuse and subsequent addiction development may alter the brain in such a way that an individual’s decisions become based on compulsions and cravings rather than conscious decision-making.3 Instead of having the opportunity to live for themselves, some teenagers get trapped in an unwitting cycle of living for the drug.
Addiction encompasses several other health implications that are important to identify and understand.
Physical consequences include:3
- Infectious disease: Intravenous use of drugs such as cocaine, heroin, anabolic steroids, and methamphetamine imparts a high risk of infection with viruses and other communicable diseases such as HIV and hepatitis due to direct pathogenic exposure within the blood.
- Cardiovascular and respiratory effects: From inhaling air freshener and marijuana to injectable drugs, a direct connection has been found between drug use and abnormalities in heart and lung function, including heart attack, bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer.
- Internal organ damage (kidney, liver, stomach, and spleen): Inflammation, ulceration, functional insufficiency, tissue necrosis, and, ultimately, organ failure can all result from extended drug use.
- Neurological, musculoskeletal, and hormonal effects: Seizure, stroke, brain damage, mental illness, restlessness, mood swings, infertility, muscle cramping, weakness, paralysis, and death are all possible ways in which the body may be physically affected by drugs.
Though often fleeting, the pleasurable highs obtained from drug use serve to reinforce continued use despite a multitude of accompanying health dangers. Although they may result in pleasurable side effects initially, the short-term pleasurable effects do not outweigh the potential long-term risks.
And though it often occurs casually among peer groups, the decision to take drugs shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is important to know and understand the risks involved and the potential physical danger and addiction that may result. Since there can be a lot of pressure and confusion surrounding the choice of whether or not to take drugs, being informed is an important way to support the decision to not abuse substances.
Emotional and Interpersonal Consequences
There are many causes and consequences of addiction. It may begin with unmet needs and poor familial attachment and relationships, but it can result in academic and economic hardship, legal problems and incarceration, emotional distress, violence, and even death.4 With implications ranging from poor relationships to incarceration, there are many emotional and interpersonal consequences of addiction. Within communities and families, when an individual makes a personal choice to use drugs, the entire system may be affected.
Some of the most common emotional and interpersonal consequences that result from teenage addiction include:5
- Intellectual performance problems: Cognitive and behavioral problems, such as declining grades and absenteeism, can affect a drug user’s academic performance. Disruptive teens can affect the learning and performance of classmates as well.
- Poor relationships: Isolation and hostility from peers, promiscuity, and negative interactions in family life are just some examples of how relationships can be impacted.
- Mental illness: Depending on the drug abused, depression and anxiety, mood disorders, and even suicide can be the result of chemical changes in the brain and emotional responses to negatively impacted circumstances.
- Impaired life skills: Emotional distress can have lasting effects on the body. Over the long term, drug addiction can lead to maladaptive behavioral patterns that persist into adulthood—potentially creating poor financial stability, adaptability, and success.
- Imprisonment: Imprisonment affects not only all current relationships but potentially future relationships as well. Incarcerated youth often do not receive adequate services to resolve substance abuse issues, which can, in turn, affect long-term goals.
Addiction can be a lonely road, but it doesn’t have to be. If you or a teen you love is suffering from drug addiction, don’t hesitate to find the help you need. Our treatment support team is ready to answer your questions about the recovery process. For more information about rehabilitation options, please contact us at .
It has been reported that nearly 50% of the state and federal prisoners in the U.S. abuse or are addicted to drugs.6 A strong correlation has been found between incarceration and addiction among youth 18 and younger. Reports maintain that 39% to 82% of incarcerated youth in the U.S. were either directly under the influence or addicted to substances at or around the time of arrest.5
Those involved with the juvenile justice system exhibit a recurring theme of interpersonal and emotional problems in the form of negatively influential peer groups, lack of social controls, and a history of violence or abuse, either physical or sexual.5
Especially in cases of violence or substance abuse–related crimes, the burden extends beyond just the individual committing the offense—becoming something that the family may also have to contend with. The cost associated with managing crime and supporting community residents’ safety increases the demand and therefore the financial burden of teenage drug addiction as a whole.
Treatment for Teen Addiction
Early intervention in teenage drug addiction is a key component of successful recovery. Fortunately, much research has been conducted in this area, and a wide variety of treatment options exist. Behavioral, pharmaceutical or medication-assisted, and family-based interventions are among the most popular efficacy- or research-based approaches. Above all else, it is important to find a qualified professional to assist in the recovery process. Professional clinical judgment and a carefully considered choice of specific evidence-based approaches may result in the best chances for effective substance abuse treatment.7
Behavioral interventions are founded on the principle of empowering client to take responsibility for their decisions and actions. During behavioral therapy, individuals are brought through strategic steps, including incentives and skill-building, to learn how to manage and resist cravings and to improve communication.7
Examples of behavioral therapy include group therapy, the adolescent community reinforcement approach, cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, motivational enhancement therapy, 12-step programs, and, of course, abstinence.7
Access to resources is a powerful and necessary tool when trying to recover from drug addiction. Family-based approaches leverage familial and community supports to address addictive behaviors.7 Many times, addiction can be a symptom of a larger issue, with teenagers resorting to drug use in an attempt to feel a sense of control over their lives.
Poor communication, family conflict, and violence often underpin addictive behaviors. Family-based therapies allow related individuals to become active participants in the recovery process, learning how to adapt and change together. Family-based strategies include brief strategic family therapy, family-based therapy, functional family therapy, and multi-systemic therapy strategies. These modalities are time-tested and proven to have high success rates.7 They can be implemented in either outpatient programs or in more immersive settings such as residential treatment programs.7
Regardless of the modality or setting, the most important aspect of recovery is to begin the journey. If you or a teenager you know or love is struggling with addiction, finding the right resources can be overwhelming. Our professional placement advisors are waiting to support your journey to effective recovery. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at .
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). DrugFacts: High School and Youth Trends.
- U. S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2016). Substance Abuse.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Medical Consequences of Drug Abuse.
- Lander, L., Howsaire, J., Byrne, M. (2013). The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice. Social Work Public Health, 28(0), 194-205.
- The National Criminal Justice Reference Service. Juvenile Delinquency and Substance Abuse.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Evidence-Based Approaches to Treating Adolescent Substance Use Disorders.