This is a guest post by Jeremy Stanton, owner and CEO of Haven House Addiction Treatment in West Los Angeles
Alcoholism and drug addiction can look wildly different when comparing a teenager with an adult. The differences between these two groups of addicts necessitate treatment plans that focus on characteristics particular to each group. A serious point of emphasis in the recovery of one addict may not always be applicable to another. While the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and its accompanying shift in action and thinking are relevant to everyone regardless of age, teenagers struggling with substance abuse have a specific set of issues that need to be addressed and resolved.
The consequences of drug abuse that teens face are very different from adults. There are no homes to lose, marriages to dissolve or careers to implode. Simply put, teen addicts have less responsibilities to forego and fewer achievements to tarnish. Addicts and alcoholics can be notoriously shortsighted, and in the case of teenagers, parents’ primary concerns involve their child’s future. This raises serious concerns about how to address drug abuse with younger addicts. Focusing on immediate consequences can be a more fruitful approach than stressing the potential for their decisions to affect them in the future. Poor performance in school, loss of interest in hobbies and dangerous risk-taking behavior are all relevant and important aspects of addiction that will be immediately noticeable. For teens, there is no baseline with which to compare their current behavior. The adult addict is able to reflect upon the progressive nature of his or her illness and acknowledge its increasing severity. Parents should instead focus on how their child’s addiction has affected their priorities and interests and has had some form of immediate consequence. Remember that treating addiction is only effective when an addict self-diagnoses and admits to their illness; always show rather than tell how drugs and alcohol have impacted their life.
Sobriety can be a frightening experience for anyone, regardless of their age, for plenty of reasons. Younger addicts may associate abstinence from drugs and alcohol with a lack of social life or an inability to have fun. At such a young age, fears of being shut out by their peers can also prevent teenagers from expressing the willingness to seek sobriety. Much of a teenager’s identity revolves around their social and groups and friends. While experimentation is common for this age group, there is a difference between recreational and dangerous abuse of drugs and alcohol. This distinction can be difficult to notice, especially for those who have had little to no history using illegal substances. As teenagers continue to use drugs, they may not be able to see addictive patterns. Fortunately for younger individuals requiring help in overcoming addiction, there are many AA and NA groups across the country that focus on recovery in teenage populations. Having someone who is a similar age recount their own struggles with drugs and alcohol is a big deal for an individual who is conflicted about their own desire to get sober. No amount of parental concern, school suspensions, trips to jail or other consequences will have the impact of one addict speaking with another.
There are several other issues involved in helping teens in recovery that should also be acknowledged. Teenagers will often have a sense of invincibility about some of their behaviors and decisions, and substance use is no exception. Denial is especially powerful in younger populations. Even when they have a sense of self-awareness about their substance abuse, procrastination can also make it difficult to seek recovery. Younger people often feel that there will be plenty of time in the future to address things, even issues as serious as addiction. A large part of treatment involves education and scientific evidence. Misconceptions and misinformation, usually related by friends, contribute a lot to someone using drugs for the first time. Without using traditional scare-tactics, parents or other people in the addict’s support system can have an open and honest conversation about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse as well as the progression of addictive behaviors. Teens may fear punishment or blame from parents which can prevent them from admitting to their problems with drugs and alcohol.
Teenagers need a caring and supportive environment in order to recover from addiction. Sobriety is a difficult journey to walk, as anyone with the experience will tell you, and may seem even more frightening to a teenager. Anyone who can be honest with themselves is capable of recovery, and countless teenagers across the world can tell you that addiction is a strong, but defeatable opponent.
Jeremy Stanton is the owner and CEO of Haven House Addiction Treatment, a recovery community offering Detox, Outpatient, Inpatient and Continuing Care services for all ages located in West Los Angeles. For more information visit http://www.havenhouseaddictiontreatment.com or call (424) 293-2259.