No teenager is immune to the risk of drug addiction. Substance abuse affects young people from all demographic groups, regardless of their socioeconomic status, gender or ethnicity. However, there are a number of important factors that make certain teenagers more vulnerable to drug abuse than others. Understanding these risk factors can help you identify the warning signs of addiction in the early stages of this disease:
- Age. The biochemical and neurological changes of adolescence put young people at risk of substance abuse and addiction. The National Institutes of Health states that addiction can be called a “developmental disease,” because it so often begins during the teenage years. In adolescence, the areas of the brain that affect judgment and decision-making are still maturing, leading teens to focus on short-term pleasures in spite of long-term consequences.
- Family background. Genetic influences and behavioral modeling account for approximately half of the risk of substance abuse in adolescents, according to the Psychiatric Times. Addictive behavior is often seen in close family members, which indicates that a predisposition to substance abuse could be hereditary. It also suggests that children tend to model the behavior of their parents and other adult role models.
- Home environment. A nurturing, supportive home environment offers some protection against the temptations of substance abuse. Teenagers who feel loved and nurtured tend to have a stronger sense of self-worth than those who feel undervalued or ignored. A strong self-esteem makes an adolescent less vulnerable to peer pressure.
- A history of abuse or trauma. Substance abuse is a common way for teens to deal with the emotional pain of physical, sexual or psychological trauma. According to Psychological Bulletin, one clinical study found that 30 percent of adolescents in a residential treatment program were victims of childhood abuse. Many abused teens meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, which predisposes its victims to drug and alcohol addiction.
- Peer influences. Teens are extremely sensitive to the opinions and actions of their peers. Many teens are introduced to drugs or alcohol for the first time by friends or classmates in their age group. When a middle school or high school student gives up old friends to be part of a new, cool crowd, it’s likely that drug or alcohol abuse is involved.
- Co-occurring mental illness. The rate of drug addiction among adolescents with mental illness is higher than the general population. The Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs estimates that as many as 60 to 75 percent of teenagers with a substance use disorder also have a psychiatric disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or schizophrenia. Young people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder and impulse control disorders are also at high risk of addiction. Teenagers with a co-occurring mental illness need intensive, specialized care that integrates drug rehab with mental health services.
What if My Teen Is Addicted?
Even if you’re aware of the risk factors for substance abuse, it can be a devastating shock to find out that your teen is addicted. Parents of addicted teens need the support of compassionate treatment specialists who can help them rebuild their families on a stronger, healthier foundation.
The gender-specific residential treatment program at Muir Wood is tailored to the needs of boys ages 12 to 17 who are struggling with substance use disorders. We provide comprehensive, individually tailored rehab programs for adolescent and teenage boys and their families. Call our admissions counselors now to start the process of healing today.