Adolescent Behavioral Patterns and Their Connection to Substance Use

Did you know that adolescents and young adults are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol compared to the general population? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over half of high schoolers will have tried legal or illegal drugs. To understand this phenomenon, one needs to know the risk factors from the physiological, emotional, and social aspects related to youth and substance use.

Identifying Adolescent Substance Use and Addiction

Young people who are going through adolescence are experiencing shifts of hormones that might lead to mood swings. If other behavioral changes accompany these normal mood swings, a parent would need to know how to identify if other risks, such as substance use, are at work. Such behavioral changes include aggression, anger, oversleeping, loss of interest in activities they used to feel passionate about, and physical changes such as sudden weight loss.

Because substance addiction is a kind of progressive disease, parents ought to catch early signs to prevent it from becoming a full-blown health crisis for a child. However, if a parent is not familiar with a child's normal daily behaviors, the problems can go on undetected. You can also rely on a teen's friends to get a sense of whether something is going on. It's also important that you don't passively enable an adolescent's unhealthy behavior. If you have already developed codependency with your child's addiction, there is always time to turn around before it is too late.

Physiological Factors: The Adolescent Brain

Among the many reasons adolescents tend to use drugs and alcohol, their desire for new experiences and peer pressure are common factors, making this demographic group almost "biologically wired" for risk-taking. Indeed, these are developmental drives parents need to reckon with. Some put it that the adolescent brain is like a car with a fully functioning gas pedal (the brain's neurological reward center) but a set of weak brakes (the developing prefrontal cortex). Because the brain is malleable and thus has a lot of neuroplasticity, it can be susceptible to impulses and eruption of emotions.

Nevertheless, most teens do not develop substance addiction just because they are going through a fragile physiological and psychological phase. There are also intersecting factors that may lead to long-term negative consequences. These include parental role modeling in their lifestyle, availability of drugs and alcohol at home and in the neighborhood, and whether their friends are using substances.

Social Factors: Risks at Home and through Peer Pressure

For parents, it is crucial to examine the home environment to detect risk factors such as violence, abuse, and mental health issues. For example, parents' drug and alcohol use in the home can increase the likelihood an adolescent uses these substances in their life. Parents also need to consider a child's genetic vulnerability and personality traits. Sometimes pre-existing mental health problems may also cause adolescents to self-medicate through drugs and alcohol. Once these two conditions become co-occurrences, it is much harder to change.

Adolescence behaviors are also related to parenting styles at home. Researchers have identified four primary parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and neglectful. Some associate authoritarian and neglectful parenting styles with a higher risk of adolescent substance use and addiction. Children raised in homes with overly strict or minimum parental supervision are more likely to experiment with alcohol and drugs.

Treating Adolescent Addiction

Treatment of adolescent addiction may differ from that of adults because of a few patterns. For example, adolescents tend to use different substances, such as marijuana. They also are more likely than adults to under-report the level of severity of their substance use. Further, when advised to seek treatment, adolescents are less likely to cooperate. This unwillingness is because some adolescents underestimate the long-term effects of their shorter histories of substance use.

Because of adolescents' unique behavioral patterns, treatment plans need to be customized to fit each situation. The FDA does not approve some addiction medications for treating adolescents, so that is another thing to consider. A holistic recovery approach requires considering the needs of the whole young person, including their developmental stage, cognitive capacities, family dynamics, peer circles, and additional mental health aspects.

During treatment, health professionals need to manage complications in the physiological aspect and the emotional and behavioral health areas. Given their vulnerability, adolescents especially need their families to support their recovery from addiction. Working with a professional interventionist whose expertise is coaching both the adolescent and parents would be an excellent place to start. 

If you have an adolescent child who has developed an addiction to drugs, alcohol, or other substances, it is essential that you educate yourself on how adolescent behavior patterns are related to addiction. By becoming more informed about this issue, you can better support your child toward the goal of recovery. If necessary, you should consider working with a professional interventionist. At South Florida Intervention, we have professionally trained interventionists to work with addicted adolescents and their families. Our recovery coaches can also help both parents and adolescents understand more about sobriety and what it takes to continue sustained recovery. Over the years, many families have benefited from the wide range of services we offer, including recovering coaching, parent coaching, sober escort, and detailed case management. Our experienced interventionists can also connect you with trusted health professionals who have expertise in treating addiction-related emotional or mental health issues. To learn more about how we can help you, call (202) 390-2273.