Teenage Drug Abuse: Symptoms, Treatment & Recovery

Substance abuse has been a public health issue for as long as drugs have existed. Why do so many people struggle with substances? There are three reasons that people use drugs that have a potential for abuse. They are experimentationcontrol and coping with life stressors.

The Reasons That Teens Use Drugs

Over 80% of teens report that they have been presented with the opportunity to try illegal drugs. Nearly 43% admit to having tried them. Experimentation is usually a one time or occasional use of drugs, but it can quickly lead to addiction requiring professional help. These statistics do not address pre-teen and young adult experimentation, but both of these groups are also of concern.

Drugs are very commonly used as a method of coping with painful emotions, stress and problematic personal situations. Some people who abuse drugs are self medicating because they have never received professional help or treatment for a legitimate medical condition such as depression or anxiety.

Control can mean that the drug was originally used to treat a legitimate medical problem such as chronic pain, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Depression. A person who uses them for a real medical condition may find themselves taking the drugs in ways they aren’t supposed to, or continuing to use them even after the medical problem is cured. The user may not see their behavior as abnormal because they were prescribed the drug by a doctor. However, if they are using their medications in ways that aren’t recommended by a health care professional, then their behavior constitutes substance abuse.

What is a Drug?

Drugs are chemicals that act on the brain and body, causing different kinds of outcomes and effects. Some drugs are natural in the sense that they come from plants or animals. Other drugs are synthetic which means they are made by humans, usually in a laboratory setting.

Drugs are used on a daily basis to help people who are ill. However, they can also cause significant harm if they are taken by people who do not need them. Some drugs cause changes in the brain and body that are permanent, or can cause an addiction to take hold. An addict will go out of their way to obtain a drug they are addicted to which often leads to unsafe or illegal activities.

Anything that we put in our bodies to instigate a change can be classified as a drug. This includes alcohol, nicotine and caffeine as much as it includes crack, cocaine or heroin.

Treatment for drug abuse and drug addiction should start as soon as possible. Unfortunately, many parents, teachers and even family physicians may miss the warning signs. Parents often turn a blind eye or regard the behavior as normal teenage dysfunction. They put off getting help. In some cases this is a deadly decision.

Adolescent Growth is here for parents who are concerned and have questions about what to do if they think their child may be using drugs and might need to receive specialized drug rehab.

Most Common Drugs Abused by Teens

Stimulants – Stimulants cause a person to feel highly energized, alert and exhilarated. Illegal forms include methamphetamine and cocaine.

Depressants – Depressants cause a person to feel sleepy or relaxed. They help people who struggle with anxiety or insomnia. They are sold on the street to help people feel relaxed, uninhibited and euphoric. Legally prescribed but often misused depressants include Ambien, Seconal, Ativan, Valium, Xanax and Klonopin.

Tobacco and Alcohol – Are two commonly used drugs that teens can abuse and become addicted to. Alcohol abuse in particular should not be ignored. Alcohol may be a legal drug but alcohol addiction is a serious medical condition that requires professional medical treatment.

Other Drugs – Other drugs that teens abuse and become addicted or exposed to include marijuana, hashish, club drugs such as MDMA (Molly, Ecstacy), ketamine, PCP, mescaline, magic mushrooms, LSD, inhalants (such as paint solvents that cause a high when inhaled), steroids and more.

Adults who take prescription drugs with the potential for abuse should be aware that many teen drug experimentations begin at home. Consider keeping your prescription drugs locked up or hidden from view.

What’s the Difference Between Drug Dependence and Drug Tolerance?

Drug dependence and tolerance are two issues that often present before a teen goes on to develop an addiction. Drug tolerance occurs when the body grows used to the drug and the user needs to ingest more that they used to in order to feel the same effects.

Drug dependence means that a person can’t function normally unless they have the drug in their system. Their brain and body becomes accustomed to having the drug available. If the amount of the drug in the body decreases, withdrawal symptoms begin to occur. This is the brain telling the body that it needs the drug in order to function normally. Dependence is the reason that many people continue to drink or use drugs but still appear to function normally.

What Exactly is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is when a person uses drugs daily or frequently despite the harm it is causing their mind and their body. Depending on the kind of drug they are addicted to they may have a drug dependence and a drug tolerance as well.

Teen drug addiction may begin just by sampling from the home medicine cabinet, from a friend’s medicine cabinet or experimenting with drugs at a party or concert.

Often teens are under a great deal of pressure to try these drugs in order to fit in, or they find they feel better or more relaxed in social situations when they are on drugs. Some teens say they initially tried drugs to make daytoday life easier.

Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the kind of drug that is being abused, how much has been used and how long they have been using.

Withdrawal is a group of symptoms that occur upon abrupt discontinuation or decrease in intake of certain types of drugs. Sometimes a teen will require professional help to safely withdraw from the drug they have been using. Teens in withdrawal have both physical and psychological pain and discomfort and withdrawal from some drugs can be life threatening. The following is two short lists of withdrawal symptoms, categorized by the level of danger they represent:

General Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shaking/tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Irritability

Dangerous Withdrawal Symptoms:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Seizures
  • Violent behavior
  • Suicide and suicidal ideation
  • Kidney failure
  • Brain damage
  • Severe diarrhea that can lead to dehydration

Signs and Symptoms that Parents Should Look Out For

The following is a list of signs that your child may be abusing drugs:

  • Mood changes and irritability
  • Strange changes in behavior such as laughing for no reason or staring into space
  • Increased clumsiness
  • Keeping secrets about friends and activities
  • Slurred or hyper speech
  • Poor hygiene that gets worse over time
  • Odd smells on clothing or in their bedroom
  • Over use of breath mints, gum or mouth wash
  • Medications missing from parents’ medicine cabinet
  • Missing money especially from purses and wallets
  • Hidden drug paraphernalia (pipes, rolling papers, pill cutters, etc.)
  • Skipping school
  • Nose bleeds
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Sweating
  • Drop in grades or participation in previously enjoyed sports or hobbies.
  • Concerns or complaints from teachers, neighbors or friends.