Use and abuse of drugs and alcohol by teens is very common and can have serious consequences. In the 15-24 year age range, 50% of deaths (from accidents, homicides, suicides) involve alcohol or drug abuse. Drugs and alcohol also contribute to physical and sexual aggression such as assault or rape. Possible stages of teenage experience with alcohol and drugs include abstinence (non-use), experimentation, regular use (both recreational and compensatory for other problems), abuse, and dependency. Repeated and regular recreational use can lead to other problems like anxiety and depression. Some teenagers regularly use drugs or alcohol to compensate for anxiety, depression, or a lack of positive social skills. Teen use of tobacco and alcohol should not be minimized because they can be "gateway drugs" for other drugs (marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants, and heroin). The combination of teenagers' curiosity, risk taking behavior, and social pressure make it very difficult to say no. This leads most teenagers to the questions: "Will it hurt to try one?"
There may also be physical signs such as red eyes, a persistent cough, and change in eating and sleeping habits. Alcohol or drug dependency may include blackouts, withdrawal symptoms, and further problems in functioning at home, school, or work.
What Is Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease defined by a physical and psychological dependence on drugs, alcohol or a behavior. When an addictive disorder has formed, a person will pursue their toxic habits despite putting themselves or others in harm’s way.
Recognizing and Understanding Addiction
Identifying a substance abuse problem can be a complicated process. While some signs of addictive behaviors are obvious, others are more difficult to recognize. Many people who realize they have a problem will try to hide it from family and friends, making it harder to tell whether someone is struggling.
Addiction and the Brain
Excessive substance abuse affects many parts of the body, but the organ most impacted is the brain. When a person consumes a substance such as drugs or alcohol, their brain produces large amounts of dopamine, which triggers the brain’s reward system. After repeated drug use, the brain is unable to produce normal amounts of dopamine on its own. This means that a person will struggle to find enjoyment in pleasurable activities – like spending time with friends or family – when they are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
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