Teens Should Know What Makes Substance Use an Addiction


Most teens and adults are aware that substance use doesn’t necessarily mean addiction. For instance, just because a teen is drinking on a regular basis doesn’t mean that the illness of addiction has set in. Three are specific signs that indicate the illness of addiction is present. This article will highlight those signs so that teens can identify them and seek assistance.


Just like any physical illness, the disease of addiction can severely affect the brain. It is important that everyone who uses substances understand these symptoms. Because the teen brain is still developing and therefore more vulnerable, knowing the signs of an addiction can in fact save a teen’s life. There are four primary indicators that point to an addiction. These are:


Tolerance – When a teen requires more of a substance, whether alcohol or drugs, in order to reach the same high he or she used to experience with a smaller amount of the substance, this is known as tolerance. The body and the brain are becoming more and more tolerant of the substance and are adjusting accordingly. Whereas once the substance made a great impact upon the functioning of the body and the brain, now it has adjusted to the presence of the substance.


Withdrawal – Just as tolerance is a sign of addiction, withdrawal is also an indicator that an illness is developing. When a teen begins to experience symptoms of withdrawal as a result of not having enough of a substance in a certain amount of time, an addiction may be present. For instance, if a teen is drinking every evening and doesn’t have a drink early enough one evening, he or she may experience symptoms of withdrawal.


Dependency – Tolerance and experiencing symptoms of withdrawal are indications that a teen is developing a dependency on the substance. A dependency can be both physical and psychological. Physical dependency is when the body requires the substance as part of its daily functioning. Psychological dependency is when a teen believes that he or she will not be okay without drinking or using drugs. It is often the case that a psychological dependency develops because it is common for teen and adults to believe that a particular substance is going to make them smarter, socially acceptable, and/or more relaxed.


Compulsion – Feeling as though you cannot stop yourself from taking a substance even though you want to is the hallmark sign of addiction. Lacking the ability to stop using is a clear indication that an addiction is present.  At this point, the brain has adjusted to the presence of alcohol or other substances and it has had such extreme effects on the brain that a teen begins to believe that he or she needs the substance in order to survive. Because of this distorted belief, a teen will begin to neglect other areas of his or her life in order to keep using. In fact, a teen who is addicted will tend to fantasize about their next opportunity to use, even though a part of him or her may not really want to use drugs or drink.


When these four signs of addiction is present, it is clear that the brain has been affected by this illness. If you or a friend is using substances and you can identify these signs, it’s essential to seek assistance from a mental health provider. Doing so can save a life! Addiction is a progressive illness; it gets worse if not treated.