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Addiction in teenagers

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Drugs, alcohol, gambling… do you fear that your teenager may be struggling with an addiction problem? Fortunately, there are resources to help, but the first thing to do is engage in dialogue with your child.

La dépendance chez les adolescents

Recognizing an addiction problem

Adolescence is a time of firsts: first cigarette, first drink, first love, etc. It is often a complicated time for teenagers and their families. It is important to maintain and affirm your values, but also to establish boundaries that cannot be overstepped and inform your teen of the many dangers that may lurk on the journey to adulthood. At the same time, you should obviously encourage him or her along this path and promote contact with the outside world.

There are a number of reasons why teenagers turn to cigarettes, alcohol, drugs or gambling. They can be ways to relax or to deal with problems, for social reasons or simply for curiosity’s sake. No matter what the reason is, this behaviour is not uncommon among adolescents, but it is important to know how to recognize an addiction problem. Addiction can be psychological (believing that you can’t function without using) or physical (a physical adaptation to a substance that leads to increased use to get the same results, and withdrawal symptoms upon quitting). Here are a few warning signs:

  • frequent mood swings;
  • neglecting appearance and hygiene;
  • eating disorders;
  • increased absenteeism in school;
  • opposition to discipline;
  • deterioration of family relationships;
  • changes in friendships;
  • constant need for money;
  • lack of motivation;
  • low grades;
  • inactivity;
  • aggressive or violent behaviour.

Those who are most vulnerable

Some factors can help identify the individuals who are most at risk of developing an addiction (obviously, the presence of a risk factor does not automatically mean that an addiction problem will occur). Here are a few examples:

  • low self-esteem;
  • impulsive behaviour;
  • learning difficulties;
  • mental-health issues;
  • ties to a gang;
  • friends who have a positive attitude towards drugs;
  • chaotic family environment;
  • family history of addiction problems;
  • etc.

How to introduce the topic

It will probably be difficult to discuss the problem of addiction with your teenager. However, it is important to do so as soon as possible in order to reduce its consequences and seek help, if needed. You can make it easier for yourself by using the following strategies:

  • Don’t act impulsively. Take the time to think before acting.
  • Make sure your teen is not under the influence of any substance.
  • Calmly bring up the subject.
  • Express how you feel about the problem instead of criticizing.
  • Use the word “I” instead of  “you.” Teenagers often have a hard time accepting criticism.
  • Encourage your teenager to express how he or she feels about the situation.
  • Make your teenager feel that you are listening to him or her.
  • Explore the reasons that could be behind the problem.
  • Don’t minimize the importance of his or her words or feelings.
  • Together, establish boundaries to be respected.
  • Don’t be afraid to apply those that you have already established.
  • Become allies in searching for solutions.
  • Also show interest in other, more positive aspects of your teen’s life.
  • Applaud his or her efforts and successes.

Facing the many difficulties encountered during adolescence can be a major challenge for parents. Such difficulties are often added to the many other issues you are dealing with in your life. However, don’t ignore your teenager’s problems. Do him or her a favour by caring for his or her well-being and development; this will help your child experience a smooth passage to adulthood.

It is important to recognize your own limits and seek help when necessary. There are many organizations that can help by offering adapted services to teenagers and their families. Ask a health professional to refer you to the appropriate resource.

Adolescence, the transition period between childhood and adulthood, is a time of highs and lows. You taught your child to eat, speak and walk, so why not also teach him or her to embrace healthy attitudes and behaviours in adolescence? Once the storm has passed, you will be proud of having invested time and energy into his or her well-being. And when your teen becomes an accomplished adult, he or she will most likely thank you for your care and support.  

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