You caught your kid smoking pot with his friends over the weekend. Or, you realized that someone’s been watering down your liquor bottles. You’re angry, disappointed — and a little afraid. One in eight teenagers abused an illicit substance last year, and you might be wondering if your child is one of them. Is it just a young adult phase or something more? Entering your child into a young adult addiction treatment center at the right time could change the entire course of their life for the better, but how can you do it the right way?
Substance Abuse in Young Adults: Understanding the Young Adult Brain
Understanding what’s going on with your child starts with understanding young adults in general. For most young adults, the time between ages 18 and 25 is a period of dramatic brain development. For that reason, it’s also a time of bad decisions, low impulse control, and misdiagnosed behavioral health issues. Unfortunately, this period of time plays a crucial role in crafting the direction of their adulthood as they carve out more and more independence. As a parent, it can be difficult to know when substance use is a small bump on the road of their life, or a major detour.
First and foremost, it is important to understand the difference between substance abuse and drug addiction. Substance abuse is any use of an illegal narcotic, any use of a prescription drug beyond its prescribed dose, and/or the excessive use of any legal drug, such as alcohol. On the other hand, drug addiction is the physical and/or psychological need for a drug in order to function or feel normal. Substance abuse disorder is a progressive disease that will become drug addiction if left unchecked. For that reason, it is crucial to intervene on your child’s behalf before it’s too late.
Young adults are not always able to make sound, logical decisions — especially if substance use or mental health challenges are in the mix. They may not understand the long-term effects of such use on physical and psychological health.
The lack of impulse control at that age is also an issue. While your child may understand the dangers of their experimental substance abuse, they physically lack the brain development to successfully reign it in. If you suspect your son or daughter has a drug addiction or continues to engage in substance abuse despite repeated negative consequences, it may be time to step in to talk about going to residential addiction treatment for young adults.
Substance Abuse in Young Adults: Mental Health
Most importantly, it’s hardly ever just substance abuse. Due to the nature of brain development in young adulthood, it is also an age when mood and thought disorders often emerge. Is your child abusing drugs and alcohol in an effort to self-medicate an undiagnosed case of depression, an anxiety disorder, or the onset of schizophrenia? Making an effort to address their mental health first and foremost can go a long way in maintaining trust and ensuring they receive the proper treatment. Thankfully, most young adult treatment centers now have dual-diagnosis programs that can address mental health and drug addiction holistically — and simultaneously.
Substance Abuse in Young Adults: Signs It’s Time for Rehab
While every young adult is different, there are a number of common signs and symptoms that might indicate a need to consider drug or alcohol rehab for young adults. Has your child’s appearance changed in a way that’s more drastic than just puberty? Have you noticed a change in their grooming habits or hygiene — or a lack thereof? Unexplained weight loss or gain, secretive or withdrawn behavior, changes in their social circles, dilated pupils or bloodshot eyes, mood swings, inability to focus and more can all be potential signs of substance abuse or drug addiction.
Overall, drug or alcohol rehab may be necessary whenever your son or daughter is actively engaged in behaviors that are hurting themselves or others — behavior that has the real potential to keep them out of college, send them to jail, or worse. The reality is that with a progressive disease like substance use disorder, getting treatment sooner is hardly ever detrimental. Even if you think your child’s problem isn’t “bad” enough, you could be saving them — and yourself — years of pain by getting them help for substance abuse and mental health.
Remember that addiction is not a parenting failure, nor a sign that your child isn't a good person. It is a disease. If left untreated, it is a chronic, progressive and fatal illness. If your child had cancer — another chronic, progressive, and fatal illness — wouldn’t you do everything in your power to help get them well?
Talk with your son or daughter, pay attention to their actions and ask them if they need help. It just may be exactly what they need to be better, to be happier, and to belong.