Teens Need Parents Who Understand Addiction

By The Fix staff 08/07/18

Parents should be upfront about the risk of substance use and at the same time, avoid fear mongering.

Father talking to teenage daughter
Talking to your teen about addiction is difficult but necessary.

The teenage years are a time of huge growth, where children transform into adults who are hopefully well-adjusted and ready to live independently in the world. It’s a huge change, so it’s not surprising that for many people the teenage years are tumultuous, as children turn away from their parents and go to the peer groups for validation, and parents struggle to adjust to their children’s newfound autonomy.

One of the biggest dangers facing teenagers is addiction, whether to substances, technology, social media or gaming, according to Christopher Yiannakou, the director of Serenity Health and Substance Misuse, a UK organization that operates treatment centers and connects patients with alcohol rehab and drug rehab through the UK.

Yiannakou is often asked how parents can prevent drug abuse. The key, he says, is to understand the roots of addiction in teenagers, and to maintain open, honest dialogue with teens before they enter high school.

Serenity operates rehab clinics in Devon, England and around the UK, so Yiannakou has seen plenty of families struggling to understand a teenager’s addiction.

The Causes Of Addiction In Teens

Addiction in teenagers is caused by biological, social and environmental factors. If a teenager is exposed to substance use or unhealthy habits around technology at home or among peers, the behavior can be normalized and the teen is more likely to engage in it.

The teenage brain also plays a role: because the prefrontal cortex, which controls decision making, is not full formed until the age of 25, teens are more likely to engage in risky behaviors and believe that the consequences won’t apply to them. This leaves them vulnerable to addiction.

“At an age where there is no filter or awareness around addiction they can form a habit without knowing they have one, and the outcome can prove fatal,” says Marie Edmond of Serenity Health.

In addition, a significant portion of a teen’s risk for addiction can be determined by family history. Up to 60 percent of vulnerability to addiction is controlled by genetic factors, Yiannakou says. Teens who have a family history of substance use are more likely to become addicted themselves.

When Behaviors Become Problematic

It is normal for teens to experiment with different substances, just like they try new hairstyles and clothing. Although experimentation with smoking and drinking is par for the course for many teenagers, it is also dangerous. Research shows that trying just a single cigarette can create a habit for nearly 70 percent of people. Teens who try substances at a younger age are also more at risk for developing dependency later on. Because of this, it’s important that parents try to prevent or at least delay teenager’s use of substances like drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

It can be harder to spot the signs of technology or social media addiction, since using tablets and smartphones is generally an accepted behavior in our society. Edmond says that parents should watch for whether tech use is impacting their teen’s life.

“When they are using every day and their school work and school time is being affected, it has become a problem,” she says.

Talking To Teens About Addiction

Parents need to talk to teens about substance use and addiction even if they don’t believe their son or daughter has a problem or is at risk for developing one. However, it’s important to talk in a way that teens will listen to rather than just ignore. Parents should be upfront about the risk of substance use and at the same time, avoid fear mongering, Edmonds said. To do this, use facts and statistics that show your teen the real impact of addiction.

“Come to their level, and encourage them to ask question,” Edmonds says.

Get more information on Serenity Health on the website or on Twitter.

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