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Dealing with addiction in teens

by Maria Onzain

Did you know that the number one illegal drug used by teens in Australia is cannabis? According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 15.9% of teens aged 14-19 have used an illicit drug, with 12.2% choosing to use cannabis. The same report highlights that the use of tobacco among young people is decreasing, but the consumption of alcohol at risk levels remains high.

It’s one thing to drink more than you should at a party, or occasionally smoke a few puffs, but it’s something very different to become addicted and abuse drugs. Addiction and drug abuse among young people can be caused by the need to have fun, feel good and experiment with new things. But the reasons that lead adolescents to get addicted are much more profound. It can include suffering from stressful early life experiences or traumas, a particular genetic vulnerability and prenatal exposure to alcohol or other drugs.

The line between teen substance abuse and teen drug addiction is very fine. And recognising whether someone, especially a young person, has crossed that line, can be extremely tough. The first step is to identify whether there is an addiction, and if so, the second stage will be to deal with it carefully.

Tips for identifying an addiction

The main difference between abuse and addiction is that substance abuse means using a legal or illegal substance in the wrong way. It only becomes an addiction when there is a physical or psychological dependence on it.

The main symptom to look out for, to identify whether someone is addicted, is to check if he or she has cravings for the substance to the point in that they cannot lead a normal life without consuming it.

The second symptom, which can be more challenging to detect, is a physical addiction. This is when there is a need to increase the dose in order to achieve the same effect. Other physical signals involve changes in sleeping and eating habits, such as weight loss or gain.

If you can recognise any of these indicators, you may be witnessing a case of addiction.

Dealing with addiction

Overcoming an addiction is a very hard and long process. First, the teen must start by recognising the problem. This is necessary in order to get help. It’s them essential that they can feel like they can talk to a trustworthy adult.

Professional help from a trained drug counsellor or experienced therapist is often required, to help teens deal with their addiction. Recovery programs can also be available, with an expert assistant providing support during this first part of the process.

During the treatment program, teens overcoming an addiction will need to get to the bottom of the problem. In rehab, teens will address psychological issues to understand what led them to drinking or other drug addiction.

They will need to face underlying disorders such as anxiety or depression, to be able to deal with it. Some behavioural programs for teenagers are hands-on for both teens and families.

But the recovery work doesn’t finish with the treatment program. It is a lifelong process because temptation will often not be far away. It’s, therefore, important that teens are continuously supported and have a plan in place to handle these situations. It’s also recommended that they join a support group to help stay clean.

If you want to help people with mental health problems and those dealing with addiction, this dual CHC43215 Certificate IV in Alcohol & Other Drugs and CHC43315 Certificate IV in Mental Health could help you get the skills you need to make a real difference. If you want to help teenagers and young people specifically, discover our CHC40413 Certificate IV in Youth Work course, with a rewarding work placement in Fiji.

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