If you have a teenager going through puberty, you probably understand what the word “tumultuous” really means. Having an adolescent going through puberty isn’t an easy task but neither is going through it firsthand. We’ve all experienced the big transition back in our adolescent lives but sometimes we forget what it’s really like to experience it and how impressionable our youth can be.
The Body on Hormones
When the body begins to experience puberty, the brain releases a chemical called a gonadotropin-releasing hormone into the body. Almost like a light switch, the body is signaled into puberty. When this chemical, known for short as GnRH, reaches the pituitary gland in the brain, the brain then releases two other hormones: luteinizing (LH) and follicle-stimulating (FSH). In this chain reaction, after LH and FSH are released, testosterone and estrogen get to work. Some general side effects of puberty are:
- Mood swings (including recklessness, aggression, and irritability)
- Mild depression
- Changes in voice
- Growth in height
- Weight gain
- Physically filling out (boys may get broader, girls tend to get curvier)
- Hair growth
As boys and girls develop, these hormones affect different areas of the body. Girls will experience the onset of a menstrual cycle, the widening of hips, weight gain, and breast growth and tenderness. Boys, on the other hand, will experience growth in the penis and testes, a change (or cracking) in the voice, broadening of the shoulders, and persistent thoughts that gravitate toward sex. These changes are completely normal and should be expected. As a parent, it can be a trying time as your child goes through mood swings and physical changes. Don’t worry – this phase will pass.
Puberty = More Vulnerable Teen
The hormonal changes that occur during this time are responsible not only for the explosive mood swings teenagers are known for, but they are also partly accountable for disparities in decision-making abilities and judgment. The brain is essentially reformed during puberty, according to Harvard University. Teens are more susceptible to eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse (binge drinking), accidental deaths, and homicides during puberty. These changes alter the areas of the brain responsible for emotions and motivation/reward, which can account for the mood swings, problems with authority, and sometimes a surprising degree of recklessness.
The Centre for Adolescent Health noted some strong correlations between adolescence and the onset for drug and alcohol abuse. Of the 10- to 15-year-old adolescents studied, researchers found that the probability for lifetime substance abuse was two times higher in late puberty.
During this time, it’s more important than ever to get your child help if he or she is battling a substance or alcohol abuse issue. You might think your child is acting out and being emotional, but if you notice a marked disinterest in activities, a dramatic change in friendships and peer groups, and a decline in grades at school, it may be time to talk to your teen. Adolescence is such a pivotal time for brain and body growth, and substance abuse of any kind can damage that growth and functioning as an adult.
If you suspect your adolescent son might be abusing alcohol or substances, take a moment to call us here at Muir Wood. We’ll be waiting to talk to you anytime you’re ready.