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When Substance Use Turns Into Addiction

substance-use-turns-addictionSubstance use and addiction are more common among teenagers and college students than you might think. More than 4 million full-time college students aged 18 to 22 engaged in binge drinking within the past month, and approximately 1 in 5 used an illicit substance within the past month.

Teenagers experiment with substances because they feel the pressure to fit in, the need to rebel or the desire to cope with negative emotions. College students are navigating a completely new world. They feel pressure to perform academically, as well as to fit in socially. Now, they have more freedom than they’ve ever had, and the social scene is often centered around partying.

Addiction doesn’t occur in a vacuum. There is always a reason for substance use, and it can be related to a number of factors, from mental health issues to childhood trauma to just wanting to fit in.

Experimenting with substances or engaging in recreational use seems harmless. Since you’re only using them in social settings, what could possibly be so dangerous? For parents of teenagers and college students, it’s especially important to understand how addiction can develop during adolescence and early adulthood.

How Experimentation Leads to Addiction

The more a person uses drugs or alcohol, the more likely they are to become addicted. Most addictions progress in the same way through a series of steps:

  1. Experimentation. People start experimenting with drugs or alcohol out of curiosity, the desire to fit in or to cope with negative emotions.
  2. Recreation. Substance use becomes more frequent, usually in a social setting on the weekends or a few times a month.
  3. Regular use. Substances start to affect a person’s life. They lose interest in things they used to enjoy, and the only way to have fun is by drinking or using drugs. If you tried to approach a person in this stage, they would probably deny having a problem because they are still in control of their life, they just use substances to unwind and mitigate negative feelings.
  4. Risky use. A person continues to use substances even though they’ve experienced consequences. Maybe they’re spending money they should be putting toward rent on drugs or alcohol, skipping class or work, or putting their relationships at risk.
  5. Dependence. Drugs or alcohol are in control. While a person might be in school or have relationships, their performance is probably on the decline, and their group of friends is probably limited to other users. It’s clear that they have a problem and would benefit from treatment.
  6. Addiction. At this point, a person is completely controlled by drugs or alcohol and is willing to do whatever it takes to get what they need. Instead of drinking or using drugs to feel high, they’re using to avoid withdrawal.

You or your child might be drinking or using drugs to experiment or have fun, but the reality of the situation is that you’re already teetering on the brink of addiction. Recreational use can be dangerous, regardless of what substance(s) you use.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Spearhead Lodge can help. As an extended care treatment program for young adult men, our treatment incorporates clinical services, 12-step immersion and life skills training to help young men live fulfilling, successful lives in recovery. For more information about our services, please contact us at 866.905.4550.