Now I don’t want to look as if I am promoting the idea that all addiction starts in teenager years, because that is certainly not the case. However, for the purpose of this blog post I will focus on why teenagers are particularly susceptible to drug addiction, and why the younger the age when a substance is first used, the higher the chance of the person developing an addiction to it.
Everyone knows that teenagers can be a raging mess of hormones, which can explain emotional difficulties they may exhibit. However, there are also processes going on in the brain that affect the way teenagers act. Our brains do not finish developing until around our mid-twenties, and the various different parts develop at different rates. For example, the area of the brain responsible for emotions, located in the subcortex, reaches maturity relatively early on in adolescence – so teenagers are particularly sensitive to their emotions and new experiences that stimulate them. Though the part of the brain responsible for decision making and behaviour, the prefrontal cortex, does not mature until much later on.
Put these two pieces of information together and when you look at a teenager you get someone who is enjoying the buzz of trying something new, but is not capable of making rational decisions around their choices. It feels good so I’ll keep doing it, I’ll be fine, right? Well that’s another problem with using substances so young – the chemical changes to the brain can actually prevent it from ever developing to the extent it should, and this can make it extremely difficult to stop drinking because the teenager effectively becomes stuck in that phase. This is where addiction in teenagers translates to a life-long problem (and who is to put a number on “life-long” where addiction is involved?)
This is of course not to say that every teenager that tries drugs or alcohol will become addicted; we still don’t know what it is that makes some people more predisposed to addiction than others, but it is reason for caution to be taken. The common excuse of “all my friends are doing it” heightens the need for caution, because this is when situations very quickly escalate; it only takes one person to want to push the limits before the rest will follow and so what started as a small experiment turns into a serious problem.
It can be hard for parents to spot a problem because some of the classic symptoms of addiction in teenagers are very similar to those of someone going through puberty; they become secretive, sullen, don’t sleep well at night then sleep all through the day… This is why it is so important for parents to be as open to communication as possible with their teenagers – they need to know that if they get in over their heads, they are going to be able to tell their parents without life becoming even more unmanageable for them.
If you or someone close to you is causing concern due to substance misuse, give us a call. We are here to provide free, confidential advice on all aspects of addiction. Teenagers and drug addiction are two things that should not, but sometimes do go together. Seek help if you have concerns.
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