Understanding Addiction in Teens

A New Perspective on Addiction in Teens

addiction in teens

Maia Szalavitz recently wrote an article for The New York Times discussing her battle with addiction. She highlights on the two common perspectives of addiction in teens—you’re either battling a permanent mental health disorder or are a selfish criminal. She comments on the general lack of understanding most individuals have about addiction in teens. Szalavitz states that it’s time for a new perspective and understanding of the neurological elements that drive addiction.

Learning Disorder Perspective

Szalavitz explains addiction in teens as a learning disorder—a difference in the wiring of the brain that affects the way one processes information about motivation, reward and punishment. Similar to many learning disorders, addictive behavior evolves due to genetic and environmental influences over the course of youth’s development.

Research Behind Addiction in Teens

Through animal research and imaging studies, neuroscientists are able to recognize the parts of the brain that are involved in addiction. The studies show that addiction alters the interactions between areas of the brain that are involved with motivation, pleasure, decision making and setting priorities. These brain networks are the foundation to determining what we value in order to ensure that we achieve critical biological goals: survival and reproduction.

Ultimately, this reveals that addiction occurs when these brain systems are focused on the wrong objects: using drugs as a form of comfort rather than seeking comfort in a friend or loved one. Once these behaviors happen, it can cause serious damage. Once teens feel the relief that certain drugs or behaviors give them, they often feel as if they can’t survive without them.

Fighting for Survival

Understanding addiction in teens from a learning disorder perspective offers hope. This perspective explains why the compulsion for drugs can be so strong and why teens battling addiction continue to use them or relapse. To us, they appear to be acting irrationally by disregarding that the damage outweighs the pleasure they receive—but for them, they believe that drugs or addictive behaviors are essential to their survival.

Research also shows that half of all addictions end by age 30, and the majority of people with alcohol and drug addictions overcome it. During adolescence, what drives motivation and desire grows stronger. Which is why addiction in teens is so common. Only in the mid-to-late 20s are we able to exert more control.

Hope for Recovery

Szalavitz states that she hopes this new perspective on addiction in teens can help create more effective treatment options. Understanding that addiction in teens is neither a sin nor a progressive disease, but different brain wiring will stop individuals from using policies that don’t work.

Instead, it will start teaching methods that redirect motivations that will help ensure recovery. She states that if the compulsive drive that sustains addiction is directed into healthier channels, this type of wiring can be a guide to recovery. People with addiction need to learn how to redirect their perseverance to use drugs into something that can be an asset. By channeling her perseverance to use drugs into writing, Szalavitz overcame her battle with addiction.

Elevations RTC can help

Elevations RTC is a leading residential treatment center for teens, ages 13 to 18, grappling with anxiety, depression, substance use, and other emotional or behavioral issues. As a residential treatment center for teens, we try to go above and beyond other RTC’s by having not only one on-site psychiatrist, but two practitioners who see each student weekly. We also have an academic component that uses an accredited curriculum and licensed/credentialed teachers. With all of this, we strive to give each student the most efficient and beneficial experience possible.

For more information about Elevations RTC, please call today!

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