Teens and Drug Abuse: Get the Facts with Jason Goslin, PA-C

January 25, 2019

With the opioid epidemic on the rise, it is important to teach adolescents the dangers of abusing drugs in any form. To support the National Institutes of Health’s Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, Jason Goslin, PA-C, provides insight on teenage drug abuse:

What are common influences for teenage substance abuse?

One of the primary influences we see is teens using drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with their own stressors. Sometimes these stressors can be family problems or occur while they are going through puberty and becoming more independent. During this transitional period, teens may begin to use drugs and alcohol to help manage their emotions.

What are the consequences for someone who suffers from addiction starting in adolescence?

The brain is still developing until about age 21. Using drugs impacts the neurodevelopment of our brains and how we cope with different scenarios.

When individuals begin abusing drugs as adolescents, they open themselves up to a “gateway” that can lead to continued drug use as an adult. Using drugs as a teen can prevent the development of necessary and naturally occurring coping mechanisms. The intervention of these substances, and regularly using them, becomes a normal part of a person’s routine. Breaking that routine can be very difficult and takes a considerable amount of time to overcome.

According to the National Institutes of Health, despite the continued rise in high levels of opioid misuse among adults, this statistic dropped significantly over the last five years in 12th graders. Why do you think this is happening and what can we do to perpetuate this positive trend?

One of the main reasons is fewer prescription opioids being prescribed. Laws are in place that restrict insurers in regard to what patients qualify for and quantity a patient is allowed to receive. In short, there are just less opioids out there to be abused. The acceptance and legalization of marijuana also plays a part in this change. There is this kind of ambivalence about using opioids that teens have developed. It’s a lot easier for teens to obtain marijuana than it was before. Additionally, teens have become smarter, more aware of the severe impact opioids can have on the body and take that fact into consideration before deciding to use.

Do genetics play a role in addiction?

Genetics play a huge role in substance abuse disorders and mental health. This is especially true for patients who have co-occurring disorders like ADHD, bipolar disorders and schizophrenia. These disorders are highly influenced by genetics, and if left untreated, it is likely that a co-occurring condition will develop.

Does a co-occurring mental condition make you more susceptible to addiction?

It makes sense to think that if a teenager is dealing with a co-occurring condition like Attention Deficit Disorder, but it’s untreated or undiagnosed, they may have difficulty focusing in school, develop poor relationships and begin spending time with other students who are also not doing well academically. Following this behavior may lead to experimentation with drugs and alcohol to help manage their condition. The teen could find that using these substances is beneficial for their mental state - even when it is detrimental to their overall health and wellbeing.     

How can parents help their child manage, and ultimately recover from, substance abuse?

It’s important for parents to be open to communication and the use of therapy. Some parents don’t necessarily agree with using medication as a treatment option. Avoiding medication may hinder their recovery, if that’s the missing piece needed to make their treatment successful. Additionally, it’s important to give your child space when reestablishing a trusting relationship. Remember, it’s unrealistic to think that someone can give up their addiction in a short period of time. Relapses are common and normal when treating addiction. Keeping this in mind and providing encouragement – no matter how slow the recover may be – is important in helping your child reach sobriety.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, we are here to help. Speak to a member of our Behavioral Health Team in Cherry Hill at 800-528-3425 or Washington Township at 856-582-1419.