Addiction is characterised by feelings of intense physiological or psychological dependency on something. The object of addiction usually offers something that the addicted person perceives as positive, even if only for the short term. This can be anything from substances like tobacco or even glue, to activities such as cyber social networking or sex. Experimentation and rebelliousness is perceived to be typical of the teen years, but the problem arises when experimentation leads to abuse and ultimately addiction.
There is a common misconception that abuse, such as the abuse of substances is synonymous with addiction. While abuse often leads to addiction, it is important to distinguish between the two. Abuse indicates that the action is inappropriate either socially, legally or physiologically in a way that puts the individual or those around them at risk. The rebellious nature of teens coupled with peer pressure often results in teens overestimating their tolerance to abuse of substances or activities. This makes teenagers more susceptible the development of an addiction.There are many forms of addiction, but the most common in teenagers would be substance addiction.
Some substances such as heroin or crystal meth are more addictive than others and have more rapidly deteriorating effects on the physical and psychosocial elements of the teenager. The physical addiction results in the teen’s body either becoming reliant on the substance or building a tolerance to the substance that more is required to achieve the same desired effects. The latter usually goes hand-in-hand with psychological addiction. This is when the teen feels overcome with the desire to experience a certain effect elicited by the substance of choice. The teen loses self-control and is overpowered by the need to abuse the substance.
There is a higher risk of substance abuse and addiction in teens who:
- Have family history of substance abuse
- Have a poor sense of identity and self esteem
- Lack drive and motivation to achieve specific goals for the future
- Live in difficult socio-economic circumstances
- Engage with negative social circles
It is important to be aware of the signs of addiction in order to identify the teen with an addiction early. Signs that you or someone you know may have a substance addiction include:
- withdrawal or keeping secrets from family and friends
- loss of interest in activities that used to be important
- problems with schoolwork, such as slipping grades or absences
- changes in friendships, such as hanging out only with friends who use drugs
- stealing or selling belongings to be able to afford drugs
- failed attempts to stop taking drugs or drinking
- anxiety, anger, or depression
- mood swings
- changes in sleeping habits
- feeling shaky or sick when trying to stop
- changes in eating habits, including weight loss or gain
Finally, it is also important to acknowledge the important role technology plays in the lives of today’s teenagers. While substance abuse remain the most common form of addiction, it is crucial to recognise the growing trend among the new generation of teens to become addicted to some form of technology such as texting or social networking. The same rules of addiction apply, but the difficulty with preventing or remedying technological addiction is that technology has become pervasive in all areas of life.
As with any addiction the key is to provide non-judgemental support. If you suspect a friend or relative of having an addiction, it is important not to approach them with an accusatory tone. By nature teenagers are very defensive and accusing them may drive them further away. The best way is to build a relationship of trust so that he or she feels comfortable to discuss the problem openly. The first step is to get the teen to see that they have a problem followed by the professional services of a counsellor or therapist. The important thing is that addiction is not overcome in isolation. It requires commitment and dedication to get through the most difficult task the teen will ever have to endure.