Plenty of people experiment with drugs or alcohol without every developing a dependence or addiction. It’s practically a rite of passage among some college students, and according to a  report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, nearly half of American high school students are using addictive drugs. There’s plenty of information out there about prevention and getting your teen help if they have a problem, but how do you know if it’s even gotten to that point? How can you tell the difference between a bit of experimentation and a substance abuse disorder?

First of all, we shouldn’t say that kids are “just experimenting,” because even if it doesn’t develop into an addiction, it can still be dangerous. Some parents might think that it’s a phase all kids go through, and as long as it’s not affecting their schoolwork or driven them to a life of crime, it’s nothing to worry about, especially if they’re using alcohol or marijuana instead of something harder like cocaine. However, the adolescent brain is still developing, and using any drug during this period can have serious consequences. Not to mention that when someone is drunk or high, there’s an increased risk for falls and other serious injuries, as well as driving while intoxicated.

There’s no real way of knowing who might become addicted and who will be able to stick to partying on weekends. You might think that your kid has always been fairly responsible, and they’ve never displayed other addictive behaviors like spending all day on their cell phone or overeating, so they should be able to drink responsibly, right? Wrong. Your teen might not necessarily share everything with you, especially if they’ve just gone away to college, and they could be dealing with stress or other mental health issues that you don’t know about. Also, there is a genetic component to addiction.

It can be easy to overlook the signs of substance abuse in teenagers. Many of them are already prone to being moody and secretive, and they’re going to want to spend more time out of the house and with their friends than at home. There are of course some obvious signs, like suddenly dropping grades, legal troubles, an entirely new group of friends, and an obvious change in appearance. However, some of the signs are more subtle. That’s why it’s important to know your teen and be familiar with his habits. You’re in the best position to know if he goes from staying up all night to sleeping until noon, or suddenly reacting to everything with hostility when he used to be calm and levelheaded.

EXPERIMENTATION OR THE SEEDS OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE?

Best case scenario, they really are experimenting, and you can head anything worse off at the pass with some clear communication. If they are developing a problem, you can catch it early and get them the help they need.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.