Dealing with addicted teenagers

As a parent or guardian, watching your teenager struggle with substance abuse and addiction can be extremely distressing. This emotional rollercoaster can feel overwhelming, but there is hope. Teenage addiction is a highly complex issue, and dealing with it requires a delicate balance of compassion, patience and tough love.

Recovery Lighthouse is here to offer our expertise and guidance, helping you and your teenager battle through the darkness of addiction and find happiness.

Rehab for teenagers - dad supporting daughter

Why do teenagers use substances?

Many teenagers begin experimenting with substances out of curiosity – it is natural for a teenager to want to explore and try new things. Teenagers might hear their peers talking about drugs or see relatives drinking alcohol and want to try it out for themselves.

Some other reasons for teenage substance abuse include:

  • Peer pressure: Teenagers often feel a strong desire to fit in with their friends, and this can lead to them experimenting with drugs or alcohol.
  • Coping mechanism: Many teenagers use drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with stress, anxiety or depression.
  • Low self-esteem: Teenagers who lack confidence or self-esteem may turn to substances in order to feel good about themselves.
  • Boredom or loneliness: Having no friends or nothing to do can lead a teenager to experiment with drugs and alcohol.
  • Performance enhancement: Many teenagers use performance-enhancing drugs to help them study, and this can also lead to addiction.
  • Genetic predisposition: Genetics play a huge role in the development of addiction and account for as much as half of the risk of becoming addicted.

Whatever the reason for substance use, early exposure has been shown to increase the risk of addiction developing. This is because the adolescent brain is still in the process of developing, therefore, more susceptible to the effects of drugs and alcohol.

Teenagers and addiction: know the signs

Recognising the signs of addiction in teenagers can be difficult as subtle changes can easily be dismissed as typical teenage behaviour. Nevertheless, it is crucial to be attentive to warning signs in order to intervene and prevent the progression of addiction.

Some signs of addiction in teenagers may include:

  • Decreased interest in formerly enjoyed activities and hobbies
  • Changes in their social circle – they may find new friendships with people who use drugs or alcohol
  • Withdrawal and secretive behaviour
  • A decline in academic performance
  • Playing truant from school
  • Stealing or selling belongings in order to pay for drugs or alcohol
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Changes in sleeping patterns and eating habits
  • Unkempt personal appearance or bad hygiene

If you suspect your teenager is engaging in substance abuse, it is crucial to take a proactive approach and initiate a conversation with them about their drug and alcohol use.

How to help your teenager with addiction

If you believe that your teenager is abusing substances, it is important to approach the subject with care. It is easy to get angry and let emotions take over, but this could worsen the situation and push your teenager further away.

Here are some steps to take if you think your teenager has an addiction:

  • Start with compassion: Approach the conversation with compassion and understanding. Avoid blaming or shaming your teenager for their behaviour and instead focus on providing support and encouragement.
  • Ask a professional: It is important to seek professional guidance in the form of a therapist or addiction rehab centre – addiction is a complex issue that is difficult to navigate on your own.
  • Get involved with treatment: Be open to attending family therapy sessions with your teenager – this can improve the communication between you and help to strengthen your relationship.
  • Build a supportive environment: Encourage your teenager to spend time with positive influences, such as sober friends and supportive family members.
  • Set boundaries and stick to them: Outline clear boundaries and the consequences if they are broken – make sure that consequences are enforced.
  • Practice self-care: Dealing with addicted teenagers is emotionally taxing – you must take time for yourself and consider going to therapy too.

Recovery from addiction is a long-term process which may feel like an uphill battle at times. Setbacks may happen along the way, but with your patience, understanding and support, your teenager can overcome their addiction and live a healthy, fulfilling life.

Talking to teenagers about addiction

Talking to your teenager about addiction can be challenging, especially if you are broaching the topic for the first time. However, having open and honest communication about drugs and alcohol can provide your teen with the opportunity to share their thoughts and ask for help if they need it.

Some questions that you may consider asking your teenager include:

  • How do you feel about drugs and alcohol?
  • What do you know about addiction?
  • Have you ever been in a situation where you felt pressured to use drugs or alcohol? How did you handle it?
  • What do you think are some of the risks and consequences of using drugs or alcohol?
  • Have you ever used drugs or alcohol? If so, why did you try them? How did you feel afterwards?
  • What are some healthy ways that you can cope with stress or difficult emotions instead of turning to drugs or alcohol?
  • Do you have any concerns or questions about addiction or substance abuse?
  • How can I best support you if you ever feel tempted to use drugs or alcohol?

By asking these questions and actively listening to your teenager’s responses, you can gain a better understanding of their thoughts on addiction. You will then be able to provide them with the support and guidance they need to make healthy choices and avoid the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.

What treatment is available for teenagers?

Drug and alcohol addiction treatment involve two key stages of recovery: a physical detox followed by in-depth therapy.

Drug and alcohol detox…

Detoxing from drugs and alcohol is a natural bodily process that refers to the removal of harmful toxins. Detox breaks the physical dependence your teenager may have on substances and lays a strong foundation for onward recovery. During this time, however, your teenager may experience some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, so this stage should be completed under the supervision of professionals.

Drug and alcohol therapy…

While tackling the physical hold that substances have on your teenager, you must also focus on the psychological. Without addressing the root causes of their substance use, recovery is unlikely to be successful. Therapy helps to deal with the emotional wounds and mental health issues that could be causing and intensifying addiction. A therapist will help your teenager to find new ways of coping with difficult situations.

Some of the therapies offered at Recovery Lighthouse include:

  • 12-step therapy
  • Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT)
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Mindfulness-based therapy
  • Music, drama and art as a means of self-expression
  • Yoga and meditation

With the assistance of a comprehensive addiction treatment programme, your teenager can learn how to say no to drugs and alcohol and instead embrace a life of sobriety, health and happiness.

Our sister centre, Banbury Lodge, specialises in care for addicted teenagers and can help to support your family. If you have any questions or would like to speak to one of our therapists, don’t hesitate to get in touch.