Have Questions? 877-282-4782

Alcohol and Substance Abuse

ten teenage girls on red dessert rocks

Addiction to substances like drugs and alcohol can wreak havoc on a teen’s life and the lives of those around him. It’s important to know what teen substance abuse and addiction is, how to recognize it, and how to treat it.

Substance abuse is defined as the continual use of drugs or alcohol despite significant negative consequences of using. Those who suffer from substance abuse lose control of their ability to manage many aspects of their lives. Keep in mind that addiction is often a process. Most people begin using drugs and alcohol occasionally, and gradually increase substance use as physical and psychological need for the substance increases. In short, substance abuse is progressive and destructive and usually requires professional treatment.

3 Important Facts

  • Among teens, drug and alcohol abuse is the leading cause of crime. Substance abuse also often plays a big role in teen suicide.
  • Alcohol is the most frequently abused legal substance in the U.S.
  • More than 23 million Americans over the age of 12 are addicted to alcohol and other drugs.

Signs to look for

  • Poor school performance or declining grades
  • Lying, particularly about where they have been or what they were doing while out
  • Personality changes, such as increased irritability, hostility or aggression
  • Depression, hopelessness or suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • Unexplained need for money and secretive behavior regarding spending
  • Talking about drinking or using drugs
  • Using deodorizers or incense/scented candles for their room
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Loss of interest in regular activities
  • Changes in sleep patterns or appetite (depending on the substance being abused, sleep and appetite may increase or decrease)
  • Changes in physical appearance (i.e., less regard for personal hygiene)
  • Trouble with the law
  • Increased distress with relationships with family and friends
  • Sudden change in friends
  • Memory problems
  • Neglecting responsibilities (missing school, work, important social events, etc.)

Next steps

If you suspect your loved one is abusing drugs and/or alcohol, it’s time to get help. They will likely need professional treatment. A medical doctor can assess the severity of the dependence and prescribe medications that can help prevent cravings and reduce withdrawal effects. Your doctor will also be able to recommend inpatient or outpatient recovery programs, depending on the severity of the symptoms.

As most people begin abusing drugs and alcohol to cope with painful feelings, thoughts or situations, talking to a mental health professional is usually necessary. A therapist can help your loved one identify underlying causes of the substance abuse. Individual or family therapy may be required to understand all of the issues playing a role in the addiction.

If you’re supporting someone being treated for substance abuse, keep in mind that treatment is a long process with several components. Being willing to accept the full scope of the process will enable you to engage with the treatment process and accelerate healing and growth. Substance abuse recovery involves the whole family. With the right support, old coping patterns of relating to each other as sibling to sibling, parent to child, parent to parent can gradually be replaced with new patterns that foster closeness, appropriate boundaries and support for the recovery of the substance-abusing family member.

Common Q and A

What are the most commonly abused drugs?

For adults, alcohol is the most commonly abused drug. Among teens, marijuana is the drug most commonly abused. Also, keep in mind that teens can often abuse household substances (such as cough syrup or prescription medications). These products are easily accessible and teens learn how to use them as drugs by word of mouth and the Internet.

What are the risk factors for substance abuse?

Risk factors can vary individually. But, common risk factors include genetics, age when someone begins using drugs or alcohol, family and social environments, trauma, and types of drugs used.

Can occasional substance abuse lead to addiction?

Yes. Addictive substances powerfully affect the brain. Thus, occasional use can easily turn into frequent or constant use.

What is the outlook for those who receive treatment?

Treatment program results vary from person to person. But the good news is that many people who enter substance abuse recovery programs stay sober. For teens, this is particularly true when the whole family is engaged with the recovery process.

Where can I get more information?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a great resource for facts, statistics and reports on drug abuse. In addition, it provides in-depth information on how specific drugs are used and their physical and psychological effects.