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How to Identify Signs of A Drug Addiction in Teens and Young Adults

Posted by on in Drug Addiction
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You’ve noticed that your young adult has started to skip out on family functions, stop participating in after school activities, and hands out with people you don’t know a thing about.

Late nights and bloodshot eyes become their norm, and you can’t help but worry that your child may be using drugs. You read about the signs of drug use, like how personal habits lean toward secrecy, how behavioral issues arise, how attention to physical appearance lacks, or how cash problems lead to stealing from family or selling personal possessions.

Even though you see some of the signs, it is still hard to tell if your teen or young adult has a drug addiction. Perhaps it is time to look for outside support as you attempt to answer this question. Maybe some thorough reflection on the risk factors that contribute to drug addiction will help you identify whether or not your teen or young adult has a drug addiction.

Partner up

While it’s understandable that you don’t want the world to know that your young adult may be addicted to drugs, it is a good idea to put trust in the team who knows your child best. You may want to schedule a conference with the teachers, coaches, or school counselors who know your son or daughter well. Get their input about any usual behavior or patterns. Find out about any habits that point toward drug abuse, like skipping class or a steadily slipping in academic performance. If there are family members whom you trust, confide in them about your concerns. Ask them to be honest with you, and share anything they have witnessed pointing toward drug abuse.

Contact a counselor who specializes in drug abuse and addiction treatment for teens and young adults. Ask if they will speak with you for a consultation. Share your concerns and be ready for the realistic feedback that you dread to hear. The insight of an experienced professional may be difficult to accept, but seeking their guidance will help you identify if your teen or young adult has a drug addiction.

Think back

“Addiction is a developmental disease-it typically begins in childhood and adolescence.”

-National Institute on Drug Abuse, August 2010

When parents understand the factors that put teens and young adults at risk of drug abuse, they may be able to identify if their child is addicted to drugs. In Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction, The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that the potential for drug addiction can be caused by multiple factors, falling under the categories of predisposed genetic conditions and environmental influences. NIDA suggests that genetics and mental health disorders are strong predictors for drug abuse while environmental circumstances like peer pressure, disrupted home life, poor academic achievement, and early age at the first exposure to drugs may lead to addiction.

To identify if your teen or young adult may have a drug addiction, think about genetic factors that may be a contributing factor.

  • Is there any family history of drug abuse or addiction?
  • Has anyone in the family been diagnosed with a mental health disorder?
  • Does your child have a mental health disorder like anxiety or depression?
  • Has your child received appropriate treatment for a diagnosed mental health disorder?

Consider environmental exposures that may have influenced your child to use drugs.

  • Has your young adult experienced anything traumatic?
  • What are your young adult’s peer relationships like?
  • What do family relationships look like for your young adult?
  • Did your child start using drugs at an early age?
  • How has your young adult performed at school or work?

After you determine the factors that may have put your young adult at risk of developing a drug addiction, discuss your concerns with a trusted medical or mental health professional.

Jesse Viner, MD, Executive Medical Director of Yellowbrick, is a recognized expert in the treatment of eating disorders, difficulties resulting from trauma and abuse, and bipolar disorder, Dr. Viner has three decades of experience applying the knowledge of psychiatry and psychoanalysis to the challenge of creating meaningful and pragmatically effective treatment programs. Dr. Viner has served as Director of Adult Psychiatry Inpatient Services for Northwestern University Medical School; Medical Director of Four Winds Chicago and Director of University Behavioral Health. He is on the faculty of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and The Family Institute at Northwestern University. Dr. Viner is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.


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