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Recognizing and treating teen substance abuse

A recent headline in the Chicago Tribune stated, “Park Ridge teen charged with drunk driving after crashing into squad car: police”. The squad car, a 2013 Ford Explorer, was struck near the rear of the vehicle, causing it to spin around and according to the police the alleged teen who hit him fled the scene.  Later it was determined that the young man at the age of 18 years old was caught and admitted to having “too much to drink”. He was later charged with a DUI, speeding, improper use of registration, disobeying a stop sign and failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident.

In the United States, stories like this aren’t uncommon. It’s a regular occurrence to hear the aftermath horror stories about teenagers, or young people learning hard lessons due to the consequences of using drugs and alcohol.

In 2012, some teenagers in North Dakota were hanging out and one of the teens offered the group some chocolate with white powder on it. The teen who had offered the powdered chocolate told the group that it was extract from a psychedelic mushroom. An eighteen-year-old named Christian, a popular football player, was found dead lying face down on the sidewalk and another was found brain dead. It was later found out that the white powder was 2C-I-NBOMe and 2C-C-NBOMe, synthetic designer drugs that were formulated to imitate the high of LSD.

(CNN 2014)According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the most common reasons why teens are abusing drugs range anywhere between doing them to keep up academically, to fit in, to feel good or to experiment. Peer pressure is the top reason why teens experiment with drugs and alcohol. Studies show that 60 to 80 percent of high school students have tried or do smoke marijuana. In the United States, alcohol is responsible for more than 4,300 annual deaths among those who are underage. More than 90 percent of this consumption is in the form of binge drinking. (CDC 2010)

Physical illnesses, problems with memory, high suicide risks, unplanned pregnancy, abuse of other drugs, alcohol-related car crashes as well as death from alcohol poisoning can occur as a result. According to the Center for Disease Control, there are more than 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in the U.S. each year, an average of six alcohol poisoning deaths every day.

Signs of underage drinking

  • Changing groups of friends
  • Less interest in activities and/or appearance
  • Finding alcohol among young people’s things or smelling alcohol on their breath
  • Coordination problems
  • Memory problems
  • Lying about whereabouts
  • Ditching school
  • Slurred speech
  • Depression
  • Seeming very quiet
  • Academic and/or behavioral problems in school
  • Slurred speech
  • Concentration problems


How to get help

Treating a substance abuse problem in a teen’s life will also depend on whether he or she has any underlying mental health disorders. Studies show that most adolescents who abuse drugs or alcohol have underlying issues such as depression or other mental health issues. However, the young brain is still developing and struggling with impulse control, which in some ways explains some reckless behavior in teens, such as experimenting with drugs or alcohol. (NIDA 2014)

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, adolescents are less likely than adults to report withdrawal symptoms, be unable to stop using a drug, or continue to use a drug in spite of physical or mental health problems. Yet, they are more likely than adults to hide their substance use, have other people complain about their substance use and continue to use their substance of choice in spite of these situations. (NIDA 2015)

Many times parents of teens who end up getting in trouble for drinking or using drugs are unsure of where to turn. Most teens respond best to peer pressure or guidance, which is why group therapy, alcohol education and relapse prevention groups can benefit a young person. Learning the consequences of drinking alcohol and using drugs, as well as hearing his or her peers share about similar experiences.

Young people might benefit from hearing about the negative consequences that drugs and alcohol bring about by attending 12-step meetings. Different people respond to different forms of treatment and help. Some young people might respond better to psychotherapy in an inpatient or outpatient center.

If you would like more information on getting a teen into treatment for substance abuse, you can call the Recovery Helpline at 855-441-4405.

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