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Is Your Middle Schooler at Risk? What Every Parent Needs to Know About Addiction

Remember middle school? Braces, binders, first dances and budding friendships were always top of mind. But it’s around this age that less innocent topics begin to show up as well. Children between 13 and 17 are the most easily influenced age demographic, which can make them more susceptible to experimenting with different drugs and alcohol with their friends.

Recently, one of the Spectrum Health Systems’ Master’s level clinicians, Mark Joyce, visited Oak Middle School in Shrewsbury, Mass. for a special forum called: Middle Schoolers At Risk, What Every Parent Needs to Know hosted by Shrewsbury Youth and Family Services.

The messages he imparted are important, so we wanted to share them more broadly.

“As we grow and learn, changes in perception regarding substances occur, particularly around marijuana and nicotine,” said Joyce. “This places our youth at higher risk for substance use disorders with more harmful substances.”

Many teens are confronted with the opportunity to smoke marijuana in middle school, and as Massachusetts begins to open the doors on legal recreational marijuana shops, the likelihood of this risk will continue to grow.

According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, nine percent of people become addicted to marijuana, and that number increases by 17 percent for teens. Research suggests that one in six teens smoke marijuana daily.

Substance use disorders (SUDs) become more prevalent for teens who have experienced early childhood trauma, such as physical and emotional abuse and parents/guardians who also struggle with SUDs. Other predispositions to SUDs include genetic vulnerability, prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, lack of parental supervision and association with drug-using peers.

It may be hard to admit that your teen could be experimenting with drugs and alcohol, or that they may have a fully-fledged SUD. But, Joyce strongly urges parents to be vigilant, and on the lookout for warning signs such as:

  • Declining academic performance
  • Loss of interest in sports and hobbies
  • Increased sense of privacy to an extreme degree
  • New friendships with a questionable crowd
  • Increases in behavioral issues at home and school
  • More severe psychological changes like frequent mood swings, manipulative behavior, memory problems, poor concentration, drowsiness and paranoia

“Through a combination of education and awareness, substance abuse can be prevented in youth prior to the development of escalating drug use problems,” said Joyce. “By identifying the risks associated with varying substances, we can work to prevent the development of dependence and abuse issues with nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, opiates, and other common prescriptions.”

When it comes to realistic interventions to prevent substance use among youth, there are a variety of approaches that help address the problem. Educating parents and youth about the health risks and addictive qualities of various substances is imperative, as are realistic perceptions of risk that can prevent experimentation with illicit substances.

Monitoring your teen’s mental health is particularly important as the 2017 SAMHSA National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that youth who had experienced a major depressive episode were 15 percent more likely to use illicit substances. In addition, help your teen succeed in school, as youth struggling with poor academic performance may be more likely to struggle with substance use as well. Monitoring your teen’s friendships is another crucial component in assessing their risk exposure.

When preventative measures aren’t enough, fortunately there are treatment options for teens struggling with SUDs. When looking for a treatment center, ensure they have specific programming for adolescents. Teens have a unique set of needs that differ from adults, and it’s important that they are being treated properly.

If you or a loved one needs help, call us today at (800) 464-9555 for outpatient services or (800) 366-7732 for inpatient treatment.

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