No one wants to have an addiction – including teens. Addiction can be a debilitating disease and interfere with most areas of life. In most cases, teens aren’t thinking about addiction or any other consequences of drug use when they begin using. In fact, if anything, most teens have an element of excitement when they first use drugs or alcohol. They are curious, interested, inquisitive, and even pleased to be trying something new. Of course, the development of addiction beginning from the first use to experiencing a devastating illness takes time. Addiction does not happen overnight. It is a slow process, one that comes with deception and denial. This article will go through the five stages of teen addiction. This might help parents and caregivers to know what to look for and how to help their teen.
The five stages of teen addiction begin with experimentation. Experimenting with drugs can begin because of a variety of reasons. Yes, teens may be curious and interested, but there may be other factors. For instance, let’s say you’re on a date with a girl you really like and she offers you some cocaine. You’ve heard that cocaine can be dangerous but also very exciting. Since your date appears to be fine with it and you want to impress her, you go for it. The point is that first use may involve other circumstances in addition to being interested. These can be:
To rebel: Some teens may be drawn to drugs and alcohol because they want to break out and test the limits of their parents. Often, teens with strict and overly protective parents (sometimes called helicopter parents) will feel the need to rebel.
Out of ignorance: From a teen’s perspective who may be watching their friends and classmates use drugs and alcohol, it might appear fun and exciting. Many teens have no idea about the dangers substance use can bring. When parents don’t talk to teens about these dangers or let them know that they disapprove of drug use, teens make the decision to use because their first impression of drugs may appear exciting.
Peer pressure: As with the example provided above, many teens feel pressured to use drugs because their friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, or the peers they look up to are using substances. In fact, peer pressure can be a powerful force to steer away from, especially in adolescence, when social interaction is of greatest importance.
To look and feel grown up: Teens often want to be seen and treated like adults. When they aren’t and they are offered drugs, they may be more tempted to use.
Modeling their parents: If a teen is raised in a home in which there is addiction or frequent use of alcohol and drugs, they may have no problem with saying yes to drugs and alcohol.
To have fun. The teen brain is still developing its ability to think about consequences. Often teens tend to be impulsive because of the brain’s development during adolescence. When teens perceive drugs to be fun and exciting, they are likely far from considering the consequences of drug use.
Boredom: Experiencing boredom is often a lure into drugs for both teens and adults. To prevent this, parents can encourage their teen to have a hobby, be a part of a school sport, join a club, or spend time with friends.
Self-medication: When teens experience a mental illness (sometimes without knowing it) they may reach for drugs and alcohol as a way to feel better.
2. Regular Drug or Alcohol Use
Once a teen has experienced a drug and has experienced its effects, it’s easy for them to use again. This is especially true if the drug brings eases their life in some way. For instance, if a teen has used marijuana and they tend to be very stressed in school, they are more likely to use marijuana again to find relaxation. Here are reasons why teens might continue to use drugs and alcohol:
- helps them sleep better
- stress reduction
- helps them feel more relaxed socially
- gives them a high they enjoy
- weight loss
- pain relief
- approval from friends
3. Risky Use of Drugs and Alcohol
If teens continue to use drugs and alcohol on a regular basis, they may begin to use in risky ways, which is the third stage of the stages of teen addiction. For instance, they may begin to use substances in a way that impairs their judgment, school performance, relationships, and mental health. Examples of risky substance use include:
- taking more than their body can handle, such binge drinking
- drinking or using at inappropriate times, such as right before school
- using just before driving
- combining drug use, such as alcohol and cocaine
- taking risks while under the influence such as driving fast or engaging in a crime
4. Chemical Dependency
Phase four of the stages of teen addiction is chemical dependency, which is the physical and/or psychological dependence on a substance. This can happen if a teen continues to use drugs and alcohol on a regular basis. Dependency slowly develops because the body and the brain are getting used to the presence of a certain drug. A teen who has become dependent upon drugs or alcohol will likely experience the following:
Tolerance: Because the body has adapted to the presence of the drug, it will require more of the substance to achieve its original effect. In other words, the body and the brain have begun to tolerate the substance. Needing more of the same substance to feel the same high is known as tolerance.
Withdrawal: If a teen is experiencing withdrawal symptoms when going without the use of a substance, this is a strong sign of dependence.
Dependency can eventually turn into addiction, which is the fifth stage of the stages of teen addiction. Addiction means that the substance use has taken on a compulsive quality. In other words, a teen may have a hard time saying no to the drug. They have lost their control over their ability to stop using. Signs of addiction include:
- denial that substance use is creating harm in life
- destruction of personal relationships
- chronic relapses when attempting to quit
- emotional instability
- psychological illness
These stages of teen addiction are listed to help parents and caregivers identify where their teen may be in this process, if they are using substances. However, it is best to seek professional help early, especially if addiction runs in the family, your teen has been diagnosed with a mental illness, and/or your teen has experienced trauma. Psychological illness and trauma can make teens vulnerable to continued use and addiction to substances. If you have a concerns about your teen regarding the use of drugs and alcohol, contact a mental health provider today.