The Experience of Addiction in TeensPat Fontana
Early exposure and a brain that is still developing leave teens more vulnerable to substance abuse and addiction. The earlier a person begins to use drugs or alcohol, the more likely they are to progress to serious use and abuse. Behavioral neuroscientist and Bucknell University professor Judith Grisel has been through the challenges of early addiction. Dr. Grisel explains the experience of addiction in teens in a recent video and book, based on her research and on her own life events.
In her work, Dr. Grisel is “trying to determine what is different about people who develop drug addictions before they ever try a drug.” Her research has established her as a leading expert on the science of substance abuse and garnered her an invitation to speak at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Dr. Grisel has written a book about her own personal experience with addiction, Never Enough, the Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction. In her video of the same name, she describes what happens in the brain when it experiences cravings and when it is fed with drugs or alcohol. Her explanations are especially enlightening in regard to the experience of addiction in teens.
A significant number of teenagers will have tried some form of drugs or alcohol in high school. Most people with a substance abuse disorder began using drugs or alcohol before they turned 18.
Before they graduate from high school:
- 70% of teenagers will have drunk alcohol
- Half will have tried an illegal drug
- Almost half will have smoked or vaped nicotine
- One in five will have used prescription medications off-label.
Every day, approximately 10,000 people around the world die from drug abuse. Substance abuse is the number one killer of people under the age of 50.
As Dr. Grisel explains, “the tendency toward novelty seeking and risk-taking is higher in adolescents than in adults but in some adolescents more than others environmental factors, including things like access and stress, and developmental factors are really important so adverse experiences early in your life really prime a person for developing an addiction.”
She adds that “addiction is characterized by craving and compulsive use tolerance, meaning that the drug works less and less well over time … so that when the drugs go away you feel less good than normal.”
Dr. Grisel discusses the concept of a homeostatic baseline, which is essentially what we consider to be “normal” and steady conditions, mentally. For example, when you encounter a friend and ask how they are doing, if they respond “fine,” that becomes your baseline for how to view your friend’s health. The baseline gets moved around as good and bad things happen. Some people learn that “alcohol and other drugs can cause changes in that feeling state to make us feel better than our homeostatically maintained baseline.”
When you first experience the use of alcohol, for example, you might start out feeling “not quite normal” after a drink or two but then you return to your own baseline feeling. The next time you might decide to have more to drink and also a little marijuana or some other drug. The brain adapts to cause a tolerance to the substances so that as you use more or if they are taken away, you’re not as happy. You eventually feel “basically normal,” when you use drugs or alcohol, which is your brain’s adaptation to maintaining your homeostatic baseline.
When the brain adapts to the changing homeostasis, it leads to a different way of processing information. As Dr. Grisel states, “one important thing about the way we process information if we smoke a lot of weed is that what we used to find rewarding and pleasurable is no longer that important.”
She adds that “it’s fun to get high acute with the occasional use but if you do it regularly your brain is going to adapt, getting rid of those interaction sites so that now you’re not really high and when the weed goes away there’s a lot of despair.” Using an example from her own experiences, she says, “when I started smoking weed, I loved how it made everything interesting and fun. By the time I quit smoking nothing was interesting, and nothing was fun.”
If Your Teen Needs Help, Contact R&A Therapeutic Partners Today
At R&A Therapeutic Partners, we understand the challenges of addiction for teens and adults and we help find the path that works best for you. Please reach out to the Miami interventionists Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno to learn more about the services R&A Therapeutic Partners offers. Call us at 786-452-7352 to schedule your appointment.
At R&A Therapeutic Partners Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno specialize in substance use and mental health disorder evaluations, treatment, intervention and therapeutic/educational consulting for clients throughout the greater South Florida area, as well as nationally and internationally. For more resources and information please visit Therapeutic-Partners.com or on Facebook.