Addiction and Adolescence
Adolescence is a fragile time. Teens are emotionally and physically in transition between dependence upon adults and independence, and they face a surge of unfamiliar emotions, identity issues, and other challenges. They can have a natural tendency to push back against authority figures, especially parents. They are at higher risk for turning to drugs and alcohol than at any other time in their life. Here are some facts to consider:
- 90% of people who struggle with lifelong addiction begin using before the age of 18 (David Sheff, Clean).
- Most marijuana use begins in adolescence: 78% of the 2.4 million people who began using in the last year were aged 12-20.
- As the perception of harm decreases, teen marijuana use increases. 34% of 10th graders and 45% 12th graders in Washington State feel that there is little or no risk associated with using marijuana (2014 Washington State Healthy Youth Survey).
- Prescription medicines are now the most commonly abused drugs among 12-13 year olds (Partnership for a Drug Free America).
- Repeated drug use alters the brain—causing long-lasting changes to the way it looks and functions. These brain changes interfere with a person’s ability to think clearly, exercise good judgment, control their behavior, and feel normal without drugs. These changes are also responsible, in large part, for the drug cravings and compulsion to use that make addiction so powerful.
Addiction is a complex disorder characterized by compulsive drug use. People who are addicted feel an overwhelming, uncontrollable need for drugs or alcohol, even in the face of negative consequences. This self-destructive behavior can be hard to understand. Consider the following:
5 Myths about Drug Addiction
MYTH : Overcoming addiction is simply a matter of willpower. You can stop using drugs if you really want to.
Truth: Prolonged exposure to drugs alters the brain in ways that result in powerful cravings and a compulsion to use. These brain changes make it extremely difficult to quit by sheer force of will.
MYTH : Addiction is a disease; there’s nothing you can do about it.
Truth: Most experts agree that addiction is a brain disease. However, that doesn’t mean there is nothing to be done about it. The brain changes associated with addiction can be treated and reversed through therapy, medication, exercise, and other treatments.
MYTH : Addicts have to hit rock bottom before they can get better.
Truth: Recovery can begin at any point in the addiction process—and the earlier, the better.
MYTH: You can’t force someone into treatment; they have to want help.
Truth: Treatment doesn’t have to be voluntary to be successful. People who are pressured into treatment by their family, employer, or the legal system are just as likely to benefit as those who choose to enter treatment on their own. As they sober up and their thinking clears, many formerly resistant addicts decide they want to change.
MYTH : Treatment didn’t work before, so there’s no point trying again; some cases are hopeless.
Truth: Recovery from drug addiction is a long process that often involves setbacks. Relapse doesn’t mean that treatment has failed or that you’re a lost cause. Rather, it’s a signal to get back on track, either by going back to treatment or adjusting the treatment approach.