When you feel in your heart that a teenager you love is struggling with drug or alcohol use, it’s difficult to know where to turn, much less how to solve the problem. Here are some suggestions to help you create a plan to seek professional treatment.
What’s Happening in the Adolescent Brain
Emotions run high during the teenage years. One minute, everything is great. The next, it’s as if a child you’ve known their whole lives is a complete stranger, and they’re not always open about choices, friends, and other issues. They behave differently, and their ability to problem-solve and make decisions is compromised.
The Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) points to changes in teenagers’ brains that are responsible for much of what we don’t always understand. Their actions “are guided more by the emotional and reactive amygdala and less by the thoughtful, logical frontal cortex.”
The AACAP notes key behaviors that happen during the adolescent years.
For example, it’s common for many young people to:
- Act on impulse.
- Get into accidents of all kinds.
- Misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions.
- Engage in dangerous or risky behavior.
- Get involved in fights.
As a teenager, your child might be less likely to:
- Think before they act.
- Pause to consider the consequences of their actions.
- Change their dangerous or inappropriate behaviors.
Further, the AACAP indicates that drugs and alcohol “change or delay these developments.”
Addiction Is a Brain Disease
According to the American Psychiatric Association, this is because addiction is a brain disease. “Changes in the brain’s structure and function are what cause people to have intense cravings, changes in personality, abnormal movements, and other behaviors. Brain imaging studies show changes in the areas of the brain that relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory, and behavioral control.”
So you have a young brain that’s evolving and not yet fully developed, affected by chemicals from drugs or alcohol. This continues to impact a teenager’s ability to effectively deal with emotions, peer pressure, school or work, family troubles, and possibly their environment.
While the AACAP stresses that brain differences “don’t mean that young people can’t make good decisions or tell the difference between right and wrong,” it also highlights the importance of holding teenagers responsible for their actions. But how can you do this when you’re concerned about their safety, health, and overall well-being?
Talking to Your Teen About Substance Use
As much as we think we know our children, take a moment to remember the last time you had a conversation about technology or tried to keep up with all the apps, slang, musical artists, and other aspects of their world so foreign to our own.
In order to understand what’s happening in your teen’s life and get the proper professional care, it’s critical to know the signs of drug or alcohol use. These include, but aren’t limited to:
- Behavior issues, such as trouble in school or at work, increased arguments, being more withdrawn, stealing money or other valuables.
- Physical changes, like too much or a lack of sleep; unusual breath, body, or clothing odors; sudden weight loss or gain; and others.
- Psychological differences, such as anxiety or depression, no motivation, and extreme mood or personality shifts.
We provide more detail about spotting signs of drug or alcohol use in this article.
If your teen displays more than a few of these symptoms, it’s time to have an open, honest discussion about their health and what steps to follow for treatment. Consider the following steps:
- Create a better focus on listening, no matter how much you want to say.
- Find ways to validate what your teen feels.
- Reassure them that there are solutions to the problems at hand.
- Make sure they understand that you’ll support them through the challenges.
Here are additional ideas for talking with your teen about what’s happening in their life and how professional treatment might be necessary.
You might also need to work with an interventionist if you feel there’s a communication breakdown with your adolescent or they’re in denial about having a problem. A board-certified intervention professional (CIP) can help you work with other family members to create a plan, determine conversation topics and flow, and outline and decide on specific consequences as a result of the event, such as getting treatment at an inpatient rehabilitation facility. With a CIP as moderator, you have the opportunity to be engaged in the process without a rush of emotions overwhelming you.
Whole Family Healing at The Pines at Willingway
At Willingway, we believe addiction is a family illness. We also understand when family members are desperate to find professional guidance to help their teen uncover the root causes for substance use, get healthy, and put their life back on track. This is why we established The Pines at Willingway, an addiction treatment program for teens ages 14–18.
The Pines at Willingway offers a comprehensive treatment program that encompasses detoxification, residential treatment, and partial hospitalization services. Our evidence-based approach to addiction recovery provides teens with a robust framework to achieve sobriety and the skills to maintain long-term recovery.
Fortunately, through recovery, families are able to heal together from substance abuse. Our treatment center was founded by a family nearly 50 years ago. Our expert staff provides every resource to help you and your loved ones have meaningful, healthful lives.