Developing an Addiction or Chemical Dependency

Teens who begin using drugs or alcohol don’t set out to become addicted to these substances. And unfortunately, there’s no foolproof way to determine which person will end up with such a problem, and how long it might take to develop a dependency (though some substances are more addictive than others). Whether or not someone develops an addiction depends on many factors, including genetic predisposition for addiction and other biologic factors.

While experts don’t understand exactly why one person becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol while the next person does not, they understand a great deal about the state of being addicted or dependent upon substances. A person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol no longer has control over whether he uses that substance. He is seeking and using substances regardless of any negative consequences that have already occurred or may potentially occur in relation to the use.

Teens who are dependent upon drugs or alcohol may show both physical and psychological signs of addiction.

Physical signs of addiction include:

  • Needing to take more of the substance to achieve the same effect
  • Feeling shaky or ill when trying to stop using
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits, weight loss or gain

Psychological signs of addiction are:

  • Compulsively focusing on how to get/use the substance
  • Using drugs or alcohol to relax or relieve stress or anxiety
  • Loss of interest in previous activities or friendships
  • New friendships with others who use drugs or alcohol
  • Changes in mood, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or mood swings
  • Decreased level of performance in school, low grades, absenteeism

What To Do
Talk to your teen early and often about the dangers of using drugs and alcohol, including the real possibility of addiction. Try to help him to understand that he may not have control over developing an addiction once he begins using drugs or alcohol regularly. Set family rules for alcohol and drug use, as well as reasonable consequences for using these substances – and stick to those consequences.

If your teen shows physical or psychological signs of addiction, seek professional help as soon as possible. Most people need the help of a trained drug counselor or therapist to beat the addiction – and even then, overcoming addiction is not easy. But the sooner she gets help, the more likely it is that she will recover.