According to Dr. J.W. Hicks, author of 50 Signs of Mental Illness: A User Friendly Guide to Psychiatric Symptoms, there is a one in three chance for someone with schizophrenia to ignore the fact that they have a mental illness. For those who have been diagnosed with depression, general anxiety, or bipolar disorder, there is a one in four chance that they will not believe that they have a psychological illness. And for those who experience psychological symptoms of a disorder but who have not been diagnosed, 90% of them will not think of themselves as psychologically ill.
In other words, sometimes, it’s hard for people, especially teens, to see that there might be a problem with drugs and alcohol. And this might be especially true for adolescents who spend time with friends who are frequently partying, drinking, and using drugs.
Furthermore, addiction not only has a strong biological component, but also a psychological component. If a teen is already experiencing the illness of addiction, more substance use only strengthens the addiction and weakens the ability to stop. Once the cycle of addiction activates the internal reward system, a rush in the brain, that behavior can become the sole focus of one’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities. When using takes over, when that’s all a teen thinks about, there’s a problem. When this happens, a teen might begin to feel as though they can’t control their drinking or drug using behavior. They might also begin to exhibit compulsory drug-seeking behavior. All of these are signs that a teen won’t be able to heal on their own. Teen drug treatment is necessary.
However, teens may not be familiar with the illness of addiction. They might continue to believe that using drugs and drinking are all a part of the fun of adolescence. They may not listen to the idea that there is a problem. Teens may continue to stay in denial, which of course, can get in the way of treatment. Denial is the experience that therapists and psychologists recognize in those who cannot appreciate or accept in themselves what is apparent to others. It is a person’s inability to see that there is a concern or problem. Sadly, denial can interfere with teen recognizing that treatment is necessary.
In other cases, teens might even recognize that their drinking and drug use is problematic. However, the stigma, fear of legal consequences, or fear of getting into trouble in other ways may prevent them from saying anything.
Of course, parents can talk to their teens about the illness of addiction and its consequences. They can also be supportive and discuss the path of teen drug treatment so that teens are well aware of the process. Parents can also help a teen create a strong network of support. This too can help with breaking through denial. In fact, it is common to have insight at certain times, while denial at other times. With support, a teen might hear again and again that it’s important to get help.
Another way to help your teen is to create a plan for getting treatment. For instance, perhaps your teen agrees to only use substances on the weekends. If that cannot be adhered to then it might point to a problem, which then your teen agrees to get help. Creating a plan ahead of time can keep denial at bay and accompany your teen on their path to health.