The most common addictions among teenagers from the past few years may be surprising to those who have not checked contemporary research about this phenomenon since the Internet age began.
The current reality may be surprising, because statistics and studies performed show major shifts during the past decade both in the substances attractive to youngsters, as well as in the ways they are obtained and consumed. Substances that have been abused conventionally — such as alcohol and cigarettes — are not as attractive to youth today as they were when parents were teen-aged.
Adults need to be aware of these trends if they want to accurately identify the real dangers of addiction to newer drugs or to familiar substances like marijuana that are gaining ground.
Shifting Substance-Abuse Patterns
For instance, a major on-going survey in the United States by the National Institute of Drug Addiction (NIDA) — a study called ‘Monitoring the Future’ (or MTF) — has revealed that ‘[i]n 2013, 15.0 percent of high school seniors used a prescription drug non-medically in the past year.’ Kids find it fairly easy to obtain these drugs from those with prescriptions (such as in the case of Adderall and other formulas popular as recreational stimulants).
In 2013, about 11 students per class (of the 8th, 10th and 12th graders studied) were smoking marijuana. Rising levels of marijuana use can be related in part to new social tolerance, substantiated by states that have legalized it — states in which kids can find people willing to buy it for them within a legal, ‘medical’, or ‘recreational’ regime for cannabis products. The common sense pattern that NIDA observes over time is that:
As interpretations of pot’s risks decrease among youth,
their usage of it rises.
In this regard, pot use is approaching the classic patterns of under-aged alcohol consumption; yet now, the popularity of drinking among kids and teens in the USA is at an all-time low. Smoking tobacco, too, is less common (around 16%) than smoking cannabis (22%) in the diverse, unprecedented social contexts of this day and age.
After cannabis usage, the most popular substances overused by teens (these are the ones about which parents need to inform themselves and their families) are pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter medications. On the other hand, use of synthetic formulas that copy the effects of other substances (like K2/Spice, which imitates a pot high) are down among teens.
Clearly, these and other surprising facts describe landscapes of teen addiction that have changed dramatically in recent decades. These new realities require radically new road maps for the prevention, detection and rehabilitation of early substance abuse.
Another powerful recreational ‘drug’ has entered the scene also, one that is ingested through senses other than the mouth, or otherwise — this powerful substance is the modern Web, along with all the toys with which people of all ages use to access it, from home or anywhere.
Teens and Addiction
Why do teenagers have a tendency to form addictions? Teen-aged kids may be predisposed to forming addictive patterns because of their natural psychological tumults, biological chemistry, challenges at that age, or particularly convenient access to drugs. But, adults, teachers and parents may add unknowingly to this predisposition by using too much discipline-and-reward conditioning.
In short, the need to achieve approval and obtain rewards could get confused within a teen’s thinking, and if it is internalized may contribute to problems with addictive traits.
Other general adolescent issues and emotional growing pains — already challenging for teenagers — can be amplified by the complex era in which we live, with its media saturation (not always as wholesome as parents would want) and the wide range of illicit and pharmaceutical drugs young people find it easier to obtain.
Although peer pressure certainly is involved with adult drinking and drug problems, the inflections and consequences of this type of social and interpersonal pressure is sharper and more significant with teenagers because identity formation is still underway.
Young people’s bodies, too, are both more resilient and more impressionable toward the various highs and experiences they might try with friends, and then perhaps depend upon for psychological and physiological support. ‘Self medication’ could be learned from celebrities, parents, adults or other teens.
How to Tell if a Teen Is an Addict?
Close, interested, loving interest in one’s children and their emotional lives is the obvious basis for early detection of addictive traits that might become full-blown addictions later in life. But modern parents, themselves overworked, stressed, short of time, or ignorant about the dangers confronting their kids, are not always as available as they could be.
Some research, not surprisingly, shows that parents who inquire about their kids’ contact with addictive substances and reiterate their harms consistently create positive conditions under which their kids tend to avoid those dangers.
Another important precaution all parents can make is to know the current-day trends in terms of which drugs are popular, available and perhaps valorized to some extent by entertainment media.
When a parent studies the various documented warning signs of a child’s addictive behaviors or full-blown addiction, one will probably recognize a single overall characteristic: sudden, rapid, drastic changes in behavior that cannot be explained by the natural developmental cycles of teens, both physical and mental.
In fact, the collusion of those two things (normal teen angst with artificially-induced states or mood changes) is likely to be one of the top difficulties adults have in identifying addictive traits in their teenage children.
In addition to subtler sensitivity to one’s kids’ states of mind, emotions, eating habits and so on, parents should not miss opportunities to perceive the most common tell-tale signs that are fairly easy to anticipate and detect (with a little self-education). These are variations upon the obvious signs of unnatural changes in their kids, such as:
- sensible traces of the substances themselves (the smell of smoke in clothing or a bedroom, liquor on the breath, erratic eating habits, and so on)
- poor personal grooming or lack of proper rest
- increased tendency to have accidents, make mistakes, forget things, or to spend (maybe to ‘lose’) money without explanation
- any sort of radical or bizarre personal and behavior changes, changes in friends, sleeping habits and so on
How Can a Parent Deal Effectively with a Teenage Addict?
Unfortunately, because teens and young adults are experiencing various kinds of stress unique to their age and turbulent social lives (commonly centered upon personal confidence, identity and acceptance from peers or adults), as well as experimenting with emancipation and greater autonomy to the point of rebelliousness, teen addiction can be most difficult to treat after detection.
After the hurdle of detection, the proper mode of treatment (matched to the severity of addiction, and the psychological needs of young addicts) is the key to helping teens evade long-lasting and self-destructive addictions. Formal treatment can be structured as an institutional model (sometimes required by kids who have had trouble with the law, as well), or, in a more ‘holistic’ way that adds naturopathic and health-oriented remedies to allopathic treatment for detox and withdrawal symptoms.
The main feature of a successful treatment approach for younger addicts — as with adult addiction cases — is the proper diagnosis of the problem. Sometimes, a ‘dual diagnosis’ that accounts for both psychological disorders (primary) and addiction (derivative and symptomatic of the psychological conditions) is necessary for proper treatment.
Treating addictions without addressing underlying mental distress, family chaos, troublesome relationships, stresses, or other triggers has been shown to be relatively ineffective — improper treatment could even problematize or inhibit an addict’s achieving comprehensive recovery later (since repeated rehabilitation is commonly required following incorrect diagnoses.)
Internet addiction may be, counter-intuitively, not as serious a concern as many parents think. Some parents may be overly concerned with their kids’ overuse of the Internet per se, along with mobile devices that offer constant ‘eye candy’, social ties and amusement — when this behavior may be either more or less innocuous, or, a genuine clue to substance-addiction problems (or even involved with it).
Many kids might appear addicted to their communication technologies without other addictive traits; in these cases, although kids’ time management, scholastic productivity and personal organization may be affected and should be monitored, what is being learned online and how they develop socially could outweigh negative temptations in the long-run. Adults and parents, after all, often act just as ‘addicted’ to their online lives and gadgets as children.
While we may be prone to assume that high rates of Web access and time spent online are dangerous patterns, these habits may in time find their most accurate explanations as pan-social or global phenomena — amounting to early adjustments and adaptations to a thoroughly wired world.
Teen Addiction in the 21st Century
The greater global social trend since the Internet has emerged appears to include greater sharing, communication, and access to information services — and even the procurement of drugs, and the development of drug subcultures.
This new technologically-saturated characteristic of civilizations (the intersection of our real physical world and the virtual online world) may turn out to be a double-edged sword with respect to addiction, and to teen addictions specifically.
The youth demonstrate greater rates of adoption of the newest technologies as well as at times uncritical consumption of proliferating content, which is not always truthful or even well founded. It could be that in this situation teens may be hurled toward encounters with addiction earlier, and yet to some extent it appears that they could be growing more choosy (perhaps because overall social openness includes greater access to legal or illegal drugs).
Although the symptoms, basic causes and treatment of teen addiction will probably remain stable, as we have seen, the modes of access and exposure to addictive substances — as well as the substances themselves — are changing. This will likely continue during this century.
Pharmaceuticals and marijuana (unlike traditional drugs like tobacco, alcohol or cocaine products), albeit somewhat polar examples, will be areas of great concern for parents who intend to take an active, effective role in preventing teenage addiction within their own families.