Substance use disorders (SUDs) are one of the most common mental conditions across the United States, with around one in thirteen people reporting that they are dealing with an SUD this past year. Research has also found that roughly 46% of Americans have someone close to them who is addicted to drugs, representing a significant number of people in need of substance abuse treatment.
Although these numbers are large, they do not even accurately represent the full picture of substance abuse. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, found that 9.3% of adolescents – some of the most vulnerable in the population – used a tobacco product in 2021, though alcohol remained the top substance used by under twenty-one year olds. This same year, 32% of students in 12th grade, 19% of tenth graders, and 10% of eighth graders all claimed to use illicit drugs not prescribed for medical purposes. Besides alcohol and tobacco, these substances included:
The age a person begins abusing illicit substances is extremely influential in contributing to their drug taking habits in the future, with most adults undergoing substance abuse treatment stating that they began using drugs between twelve and fifteen years old. For this reason, young people need to be supported and educated about drugs from an early age. Addiction treatment professionals and researchers alike are increasingly calling for treatment and prevention efforts to be focused toward children and adolescents. Research suggests that this greatly increases the chance of preventing adult substance abuse, addiction and the variety of costs that drug-related issues create in communities.
To combat these numbers and reduce the risk of addiction, there are a number of resources for children and parents across the country, including early prevention and education programs. Studies have shown that these resources are an effective way of protecting young people against addiction, as it equips them with a more detailed understanding of how these substances are harmful and means they feel more equipped to avoid dangers.
This education and support about drugs is being implemented in schools across the country to help this effort. For example, Botvin LifeSkills, a research-based education and prevention program already being implemented across Utah’s Granite School District. However, this is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to supporting adolescents, but what else needs to be done?
Overcoming a substance use disorder is difficult as it is, with relapse common during addiction treatment. It is estimated that 85% of people in recovery relapse in the first year of quitting a substance, and it is thought that support and understanding from loved ones has a significant impact on how they move on from lapse or relapse. One study found that receiving support throughout a treatment program allows for a greater rate of recovery success – this can come from the family, peers, or school.
For these reasons, it is vital for young people being treated for a substance abuse disorder to have a solid support network around them, with the recovery process requiring support from the entire family system.
There are a number of reasons why a person turns to abusing illicit drugs in the first place. Understanding each individual’s reasoning is essential to achieving a full recovery. Often mental health issues, life stressors, trauma, and upbringing play a role in contributing to why the disorder developed. Many people are not given the tools to process the difficult emotions that spur from these hardships, and this is where substances are used to cope. By confronting the underlying issues contributing to the disorder through psychotherapy, longer lasting results can be achieved and relapse prevented.
This is why it is extremely helpful for families to remain actively involved through family therapy. It is common for challenges within the family dynamic to affect or contribute to a person’s substance abuse, working through these in a clinical setting provides a safe and professionally-led space for the whole family to confront issues or conflicts that are impeding recovery.
There is also a genetic influence that plays a role in an individual’s risk for developing a substance use disorder, with around half of a person’s susceptibility to the condition being attributed to DNA. Environment during upbringing is also a huge factor when it comes to addiction, with a Ghent University study concluding that a parent’s approach to raising their children and their own substance use habits have a huge influence on if the child will develop a substance use disorder later in life.
A high probability of mental health issues within adolescents can also be attributed as a significant risk factor to starting to abuse illicit substances. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in skyrocketing rates of depression and anxiety amongst young people. This combined with the influence of social media, growing academic pressure, plus the volatile environmental, political, and social climates of today, it is perhaps unsurprising that young people are attempting to self-medicate mental health issues with prescription or non-prescription substances.
Trying to support an adolescent in your life who is dealing with a substance use disorder can be incredibly difficult. However, there are many steps that can be taken pre- and post-addiction to aid the recovery process.
The first thing that can be done is to watch out for warning signs and risk factors that increase the likelihood of drug taking behavior. Some of these include:
- ADHD issues
Identifying these behaviors and talking to the young person you’re concerned about can make a huge difference. Letting them know your own personal struggles and techniques you use to cope can let them know they aren’t alone and teach them key self-monitoring skills.
Multiple resources and support systems are available nationwide that make this journey a little easier, in addition to high-quality treatment agencies in every county across the country that can lend a helping hand during the recovery process.