Substance Use in Adolescents & Young Adults

Many teens experiment with drugs and alcohol, but few realize the risks. Is your child afflicted by substance use or even drug or alcohol addiction? Get them the help, support and treatment they need to live a healthy lifestyle.

Adolescence and young adulthood are marked by major physical, emotional and behavioral changes. Experimenting with drugs and alcohol is common in preteens, teens and young adults. But what often begins as experimentation or the result of peer pressure can turn into a vicious cycle of addiction which may destroy your child's potential in life.

Sadly, preteens, teens and young adults typically don't see the link between their actions today and the potential consequences tomorrow. They have a tendency to feel indestructible or immune to the problems that others experience. And, once addiction develops, treatment is often the only option that can help a teen stop abusing drugs or alcohol—preventing a lifetime of potential problems for your child.

What are Substance Use, Substance Abuse and Substance Dependence (Addiction)?

The terms use, abuse and dependence (or addiction) are used frequently, and sometimes interchangeably, when talking about alcohol and drugs. But what do they really mean?

Substance Use

Substance use is any consumption of drugs or alcohol. Substance use may not be a problem or lead to abuse or dependency in some preteens, teens and young adults.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is when your child continues to use drugs or alcohol even when it causes problems in their life—such as trouble with school, work, family or their health.

Substance Dependence

Substance dependence is an addiction to drugs or alcohol rendering your child unable to stop using drugs or drinking and experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit.

How Can I Tell if My Child Has a Substance Use or Addiction Problem?

Preteens, teens and young adults experience a variety of physical, mental, emotional and social changes as they encounter the ups and downs of growing up. Recognizing the signs of addiction and intervening quickly can significantly reduce the impact of a substance use disorder on your child’s life. Yet, even with the above definitions in mind, it can still be difficult for parents to tell the difference between warning signs of drug and alcohol addiction vs. normal hormonal and personality changes. However, there are a number of behavioral and physical indicators parents should pay close attention to, including:

  • Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed.
  • Dropping old friends for a new group.
  • Acting despondent, aggressive or angry.
  • Sleeping more than usual.
  • Breaking rules.
  • Exhibiting physical changes like: sudden weight loss, frequent nosebleeds, bloody or watery eyes or shakes and tremors.

How are Substance Use, Abuse and Addiction Diagnosed and What Are the Treatment Options?

Following our clinical assessment of what substances your child is using, how long have they been addicted and if they suffer from any mental health issues as well—we'll determine your child's specific needs to create a customized recovery plan is designed to maximize your child’s chances of success. Our assessment process is also a continual ongoing process to make any necessary adjustment to treatment to ensure their needs are being met.

There are a variety of approaches to treating children struggling with addictions. Of all the options available, we are most impressed with and utilize SMART Recovery. SMART stands for Self-Management And Recovery Training and this approach has been shown, through ongoing scientific research and continual clinical refinement, to be highly effective.

With a blend of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which helps change negative thought patterns to positive ones as well as emotional coping strategies with group and family support—SMART Recovery teaches kids how to control addictive behavior by focusing on their underlying thoughts and feelings, and provides them with the skills needed to manage their urges long term. The SMART Recovery approach to behavioral change is built around the following 4-point program:

  1. Enhancing and maintaining motivation to abstain.
  2. Coping with urges.
  3. Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  4. Balancing momentary and enduring satisfactions.

Feelings of shame, disappointment, frustration or even anger are common in parents who discover that their child is using drugs or alcohol. These responses are natural and should not be ignored. However, communicating these feelings to your child in the form of accusations, judgments or criticism will not help their recovery.

Potomac Programs teen mental health substance use group therapy

Is Your Teen Struggling with Substance Use? Get Help!

Your child’s substance use or abuse involves more than just dependence on drugs or alcohol, it changes the way they think and respond to everyone and everything in their life. With addictive behavior becoming the central focus of their life, recovery is difficult. But with persistence, effort, family and professional support—your teen can take back control of their life and continue to grow physically and emotionally in a healthy way. Need help? Get in touch with Potomac Programs.

Adolescent Teen Substance Use Drug Abuse Addiction Treatment Rehab Success Potomac Programs