Substance abuse is an unhealthy pattern of using substances that causes problems in school, work, or home. Substances commonly abused include Ecstasy, marijuana, cocaine, prescription medicines, alcohol, and others. Teenagers who abuse drugs and alcohol are at increased risk of serious drug use later in life. Substance abuse may also cause school failure and poor judgment that puts kids at greater risk for accidents, violence, unplanned and unsafe sex, and suicide.
Some people abuse substances but do not become dependent on them. A person who has to have more of a drug to get an effect and has withdrawal symptoms when they stop using is chemically dependent. Treatment is more intensive for teens who are chemically dependent than for teens who are substance abusers. This means treatment may:
It may require residential treatment away from the teen's home.
An estimated 2 million youth between the ages of 12 and 17 are dependent on alcohol or drugs. Over 25% of high school seniors have tried a drug such as heroin, cocaine, or inhalants.
Over 80% of high school seniors have tried alcohol. Teens who start drinking alcohol at age 13 are 4 times more likely to develop an alcohol abuse problem than if they had started drinking alcohol at age 20.
Teens whose parents abuse substances are at increased risk for substance abuse. Teens with close friends who abuse alcohol or drugs are also at high risk.
Alcohol and drugs dull emotional pain. This is why treatment for substance abuse must address what led to the abuse. Teens who abuse substances often struggle with:
Short-term methods (less than 6 months) include day treatment, medicine, and outpatient therapy.
Residential therapy often lasts much longer than 6 months. It involves removing the teen from their home to a residential treatment program. Residential treatment programs are also used for teens that are chemically dependent on substances, have relapsed after outpatient treatment, or who have been in trouble with the law.
Talk to your child about your suspicions and listen to what they tell you. Follow your instincts about your child. If you think there is reason for alarm, seek help. If your child has a problem with alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription medicines, it is not likely to get better without treatment. If you suspect a problem, seek help from your child's healthcare provider, a mental health professional, or local treatment center.
Find a therapist who has experience working with teens who abuse substances. Ask questions such as:
Be willing to become involved in family therapy. It helps to work on improving the relationship between you and your teen and other family members.
If residential treatment is advised, ask questions about the program such as:
For more information, contact The National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service at 800-662-4357. You may also want to check the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Web site: http://www.drugabuse.gov.