Tdolescents and young adults in high school and college face many unique pressures and stressors in their lives. Coupled with an underdeveloped frontal lobe, the region of the brain responsible for impulse control, decision-making, and mood regulation, these particular age groups may be prone to substance abuse.
High school and college students may be more influenced by social pressures and more likely to engage in risky behaviors than other age groups. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), by the time individuals reach their senior year of high school, 70 percent will have tried alcohol, 50 percent will have abused an illicit drug, 40 percent will have smoked a cigarette, and 20 percent will have used a prescription drug recreationally, or for nonmedical purposes.
Alcohol is the number one substance of abuse for this demographic, with marijuana being the top drug of choice, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Adolescent Health. The Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of 2014 reported the following statistics for use of an illicit drug in the past year or lifetime prevalence of alcohol use among teen and young adults:
Young adults or teenagers may feel that alcohol and/or drugs may help them fit in socially. Substance abuse can reduce inhibitions, and raise self-confidence levels temporarily. Drugs and alcohol can potentially numb or minimize difficult emotions for a short time and may provide a desired escape from reality.
Some drugs, such as stimulants like amphetamines, may be used to boost energy and help individuals stay awake and focused, making them popular as “study drugs,” especially for college students trying to get ahead academically. Between 2008 and 2014, amphetamine usage among college students in the year leading up to the MTF survey almost doubled from 5.7 percent to 10.1 percent.
Using drugs or alcohol at a young age before the brain is fully developed can create a host of emotional, physical, social, behavioral, and interpersonal issues, however. Abuse of alcohol and drugs by high school and college student may present unique circumstances wherein specialized treatment methods are ideal to foster a healthy lifestyle for a long-term recovery.
High school and college students may not have all the necessary cognitive tools to handle some of the daily stressors that may surround them, and alcohol or drugs can seem like the answer. Childhood trauma, genetic factors, and a person’s surrounding environment may all contribute to future substance abuse and addiction.
Different age groups are likely to have different needs when it comes to treatment methods. Teens and young adults are more likely to hide their substance abuse and deny that treatment is necessary than older adults. They may also be less likely to think they need help and recognize that their substance abuse and resulting behaviors are cause for concern. NIDA reports that only 10 percent of those aged 12-17 who need treatment for drug or alcohol abuse actually get it with the large majority of those who do receive treatment being referred through the criminal justice system. Alcohol and drug usage may increase risky and dangerous behaviors, which may include engaging in criminal behaviors as well as potentially heightening aggressive, violent, or erratic actions.
Most treatment models for adolescents and young adults will likely use behavioral therapy models and research-based methods that include both group and individual therapy sessions with groups of peers. Specific medications for addiction may not be approved for use in young people; however, teens may be less likely to suffer from withdrawal side effects and drug cravings than older individuals dependent on drugs or alcohol, NIDA publishes.
Treatment for drug or alcohol abuse may be performed in either an outpatient or residential setting, depending on the specific needs of the individual. Someone who is heavily dependent on drugs or alcohol, and has been abusing them for a long time, may benefit from medical detox services and comprehensive residential treatment. A person with a strong support system at home who has been abusing substances for a shorter time period, and is less dependent on them, may do well in outpatient treatment.
Support services and continuing care are helpful for young adult or teenagers struggling with substance abuse. Twelve-Step and peer support groups can provide safe places to talk to others with similar circumstances, build a positive network of people, and help prevent relapse. Family counseling, therapy, and support groups are often integral in adolescent or young adult treatment plans as well since families may play a vital role in recovery and sustained abstinence. NIDA also reports that teaching both families and young people about substance abuse, addiction, and the science behind these issues can help teenagers and young adults to make healthier life choices.
Young adults and teenagers may not feel that they need treatment, and families may inadvertently enable individuals to continue patterns of problematic drug or alcohol abuse in a misguided attempt to protect them. It may feel socially unacceptable to seek treatment, or it may feel “normal” for teens to be experimenting with drugs or alcohol. While some level of experimentation is to be expected, when drug or alcohol use gets out of control and families start to notice behavioral or personality changes, help is needed. These changes may include social withdrawal; secrecy and denial over substance abuse; drastic changes in sleeping, eating, or physical appearance; grades slipping; and a lack of interest in things that may have been important before.
Many times, treatment may begin with a visit to a primary care provider for information on how to get help and a potential referral for services. Insurance may cover mental health and substance abuse treatment services in many cases.
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