By Dan Woolley
Substance abuse is hard on the whole family. It breaks trust, steals potential, hurts relationships and puts children in harm’s way. But the cycle can be broken. The first step to providing help for addiction is knowing what you’re dealing with.
To help your loved one recover from substance abuse, it’s important to separate fact from fiction. Here are eleven common myths about drug and alcohol addiction in teenagers.
1. Addicts are easy to identify
Most people who struggle with substance abuse do not fit the stereotypical image of a strung-out street addict. People of all ages, ethnicities and economic backgrounds can fall prey to addiction. Even teens who come from supportive home environments and excel in school, sports or other activities can struggle with drugs and alcohol. Providing help for teen addicts begins by recognizing their addiction in the first place.
2. Addicts can’t function in the world
You might be surprised how many teenagers walking around our schools are actually struggling with substance abuse. Many addicts learn to manage their problem at first so that they function at school but indulge after hours. The problem is, this cycle will eventually lead them to destruction.
3. You can’t be addicted to prescription medication
Actually, prescription medication is one of the fastest growing addictions today. Just because your doctor prescribes a drug doesn’t mean it can’t be addictive. Painkillers such as opioids, sleep medicine, or stimulants such as AHDH medication are highly addictive if taken for too long. It’s critical that you monitor any medications your teen has been prescribed, or any of your own prescriptions kept in the house where your teen can find them.
4. “Soft” drugs aren’t as dangerous as “hard” drugs
Many teens believe socially acceptable substances such as alcohol or marijuana aren’t as harmful as hard-core drugs like heroin or cocaine. While it’s correct that certain medications are more powerful, “soft” drugs can cause just as much harm over time. Addiction, no matter what the cause, can lead to impaired judgment, organ damage, and overall physical and mental health issues.
5. The hard-core drug era is over
We may no longer be living in the age of Woodstock, but substance abuse is still a severe problem in today’s world, especially among troubled teens. A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan showed daily marijuana use now exceeds daily cigarette use among kids as young as eighth grade. More than 5 out of every 100 eighth graders use other illicit drugs; that rate jumps to 13 out of 100 for high school seniors. Opioid addiction among teens is at record levels.
6. Drug addiction is a choice
Whether or not to use drugs is a choice, yes. But once you become physically dependent, the desire to keep using is no longer a choice. It becomes an urgent need—an addiction. Drug and alcohol use changes anatomy and brain chemistry, which then leads to drug and alcohol abuse.
7. A high tolerance means you’re not addicted
Entirely the opposite—a high tolerance for drugs and alcohol might be a sign of addiction. Most people feel sick or pass out after six or seven drinks. If your child can consume that many alcoholic beverages without feeling affected, he likely has an addiction. That kind of “tolerance” isn’t healthy.
8. Detox makes everything okay again
There’s a big difference between detox and recovery from addiction. Detox is a temporary treatment, like taking Tylenol for a backache. Recovery, on the other hand, is a long-term solution. It’s like the spine surgery that fixes the source of a backache. Detox is only the first stage of help for troubled teens, and it’s hard. As the body rids itself of the harmful drugs that are poisoning the system, a person will suffer withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, muscle aches, anxiety, and sleeplessness. The longer they have been addicted, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms will be. Detox is just the first stage of many stages needed for recovery.
9. Recovery doesn’t work
Thousands upon thousands of recovering addicts would disagree. While substance abuse is a chronic condition and can’t necessarily be cured, it can be managed very successfully for a lifetime. Even recovering addicts who slip up and give in to the urge for a drink or a fix can choose to get right back on track and continue their road to recovery. Recovery is not easy, but it is possible.
10. Addicts are failures
If your teen is struggling with addiction, you might feel as though you or your child has failed. While it’s true, our choices can lead to harmful consequences, addiction is not a hopeless condition. There’s only one place to go from rock bottom—and that’s up. Look at this crisis as a wake-up call to turn things around for good. What began as a failure can lead to one of the most significant victories you or your child will ever face—freedom from addiction.
11. Addictions only involve drugs and alcohol
The sad fact is that in our easy access online generation, such behaviors as gaming, pornography, and online gambling can be as addictive and life-destructive as substance abuse. It’s important for parents to monitor their teen’s web browsing for such behavior, since it can be highly addictive and life damaging.