Drug use patterns and habits ebb and flow across the decades, and today’s addiction landscape is vastly different than that of previous generations. For instance, substances I had never even heard of in my heaviest days of use have now reached “epidemic” status — most notably, fentanyl and Xanax.
So how can parents of young people within the media-saturated iGeneration keep up? Even those of us with real-world substance abuse related experience under our belts, such as recovering addicts, could use some guidance. Understanding generational differences and encouraging healthy coping mechanisms are key factors in the process: We essentially have to toe the line between addiction counselor and anxious parent.
Shedding the Legacy of Addiction
With all the negatives that accompany long-term substance abuse, at least I can say that my addiction has yielded one positive result. To wit, my teenage daughter has zero interest in mind-altering substances. Which makes perfect sense: After witnessing her mother vomit on multiple occasions and in a variety of settings, as well as being by my side through several blackouts, of both the fragmentary and en bloc varieties, she doesn’t have a high opinion of alcohol.
It’s not just wishful thinking when I say that my daughter isn’t likely to fall into the clutches of addiction. There’s actually science to back it up: According to a 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report, a teen’s perception of the risks involved with a particular substance helps determine whether or not they choose to hit a pipe at a party or accept an alcoholic drink offered by a friend.
But that fact also opens up a huge grey area where certain types of addictive behavior are concerned.
Understanding the Often Complex “Whys”
One of the reasons I’m confident that my daughter didn’t inherit my propensity towards addictive behavior is her amazingly strong sense of self. When it comes down to it, I know that I experimented with drugs, and kept on experimenting even in the wake of legal troubles and broken relationships during my teens years, because I am an addict. I have the disease of addiction.
But I also had low self-esteem. I tried so hard to be cool, and since I didn’t fit in where the high school parameters of “normalcy” were concerned, I embraced the fringes. It was there where I learned that marijuana could ease my various forms of anxiety, and that alcohol could also do the job, while also elevating my self-esteem.
Today, I use several tactics to quell my anxiety, like yoga and playing with my dog. Sometimes I wonder how vastly different my life would be if I had been encouraged to embrace healthy coping mechanisms in my youth.
How Addiction Manifests
Like substance abuse itself, which is an extremely personal condition, the physical signs of stress can vary widely between individuals. No matter their age, kids who are feeling pressure to succeed (academically or socially) may exhibit one or more of the following behaviors:
- Social isolation
- Meltdowns or trantrums
- Nail biting or skin picking
- Changes in eating habits
In addition, you may notice that your teen’s sleeping habits have changed. There may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for insomnia, from over-stimulation to stress. For example, sleep experts report that at least 35 percent of teenagers have trouble sleeping due to stress.
But any notable changes in your teen’s behavior can be the sign of something more dangerous. Furthermore, teens suffering from insomnia, no matter the root cause, may turn to potentially addictive and unsafe substances in order to actually sleep. In effect, insomnia can spawn a dependency on sedatives.
Addiction Isn’t Always About Substance Abuse
The National Institute on Drug Abuse classifies addiction as a chronic brain disorder as it may lead to fundamental changes to the receptors associated with self-control, reward, and stress.
In our digitized world, many activities and lifestyle choices fit those parameters. Addiction doesn’t have to involve illegal substances — food, social media, and gaming all have the potential for addiction. And what’s essentially a saturation of addiction-positive posts, songs, and videos across the internet further hinders productive conversation about the hazards of addictive behavior.
One of the inherent dangers of social media culture is the glamorization of drug use, through everything from music videos to Facebook status updates. If your teen sees his or her favorite musician imbibing in an illegal (or legal) substance, they’re more likely to view that substance in a positive light.
But social media itself can be addictive, studies show, further complicating the issue.
Words Often Fall Short
It can be difficult for a recovering addict to discuss addiction with another person, especially our loved ones. And when addressing our teens, words often fall short.
Little did I know it at the time, but my daughter’s observations of my aforementioned, unflattering substance-related behavior served as a primitive form of aversion therapy, an often-successful tactic utilized by substance abuse counselors. You may be able to effectively reach your teen, as I did, (albeit unwittingly) by reminding them of their own personal observations of addiction’s negative effects.
Despite the vastly different world we live in today, and the new substances that can prey on our weaknesses, the power of addiction remains constant. Remaining present, open, and encouraging may be the best way to guide our teens towards healthy behaviors and away from the ominous rabbit hole of addiction.