How Can I Better Understand Addiction?

Signs, symptoms and help for drug addiction and substance abuse to aid parents. Understanding addiction empowers parents to take action through solution.

Signs, Symptoms and Help for Drug Problems and Substance Addiction


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Why is it that some kids are able to experiment with drugs and alcohol, learning the dangers immediately and staying away, while other kids are rapidly taken over and soon lose control? Understanding the nature of the illness of addiction will shed light on what many parents do not understand: that it is a disease, it is not the same for everyone, dealing with teens requires a black and white approach and there is a solution.

Drug and alcohol addiction can make a parent feel helpless, alone, depressed and ashamed. If you are concerned that your child has passed the point of “normal” experimentation, it’s important to gather all the knowledge you can so that you know how it progresses, what the signs and symptoms are, why it has such a powerful grip and what you can and can’t do about it.

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    • Craving – Drugs cause a surge in dopamine that activates feelings of pleasure. The brain remembers these feelings and begins to crave them. Whether a person is addicted to alcohol, heroin, inhalants, Xanax, speed or Oxycontin, the uncontrollable craving to use grows more important than anything else, including family, friends, career and even their own health and happiness.
    • Loss of control – Not being able to stop taking drugs or drinking once ingesting the substance. Changes in the brain interfere with the ability to think clearly, exercise good judgment, control behavior and feel normal without drugs.
    • Dependence – When someone becomes addicted, the substance takes on the same importance as other survival behaviors, such as eating and drinking.
    • Tolerance – The need to take greater amounts of substances or drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to feel the same effect.
    • Withdrawal Symptoms – Such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and negative emotional states such as anxiety, after stopping drugging or drinking.
    • Denial – The urge to use is so strong that the mind finds many ways to deny or rationalize the addiction. Someone may drastically underestimate the quantity of drugs they’re taking or the alcohol they’re drinking, how much it impacts their life and the level of control they have over their drug use.


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Understanding drug and alcohol use and addiction


Teens and young adults begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol for a variety of different reasons: curiosity, because their friends are doing it, to be included in a social group (Fear of Missing Out, FOMO), to have fun or to enhance athletic performance. Some youngsters try drugs and alcohol because they are seeking relief from problems like stress, depression, anxiety, poor self-image and underlying mental health issues that may still be undetected.

There is no data that depicts with graphs and charts at what point or age casual experimentation becomes problematic. Detecting abuse and addiction can be vague, as every teen and young adult is different, every family is unique and each social situation varies. It is less about the amount, types or frequency of substances consumed and more about the behavior and consequences of drug and alcohol use. If drug use is causing problems in their lives – at work, school, home, or in relationships and there are a few catastrophes happening at any given moment – it’s likely they have a drug abuse or addiction problem.


Why do some teen drug users become addicted and others do not?


Genes, family history, mental health and social environment all play their part in a person’s vulnerability to addiction and this is different for everyone. Here are some risk factors that increase vulnerability:

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  • Family history of addiction
  • Abuse, neglect, or other traumatic experiences in childhood
  • Mental disorders such as depression and anxiety
  • Early use of drugs
  • Method of dispensation (smoking, snorting or injecting a drug may increase its addictive potential)

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Drug addiction and the brain


Addiction is a complex illness characterized by uncontrollable drug use. Parents have a hard time understanding why their child won’t stop. They see their child’s potential and wonder why he or she toying with dangerous substances when they’ve heard how harmful they are? What parents may not understand is that true addicts and alcoholics can’t stop.

Because every drug produces different physical effects, all abused substances have one thing in common: repeated use harms the brain and can alter the way it looks and functions. Below are the characteristics of an addiction problem that a teen or young adult will need immediate attention for:

How drug and alcohol abuse and addiction progress

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True addicts and alcoholics can’t stop.


After beginning to experiment with drugs and alcohol, teens and young adults who continue to use them will do so for a variety of reasons. Over time, the using will escalate and they have crossed over an invisible line. They use because it makes them feel good and then it keeps them from feeling bad. More than likely, they will not be able to tell that they are entering the addiction zone, which is where parents can be of maximum benefit. Knowing the indicators of drug and alcohol related problems will place parents in a better position to offer help.

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  • Increased drug and alcohol use sneaks up on people – smoking a joint with friends, taking ecstasy at an occasional rave, or drinking at a party can easily morph into drinking and using drugs a couple of days a week and then everyday.
  • Relying on the drug or the drink – people who use substances because they “need” to will find themselves taking drugs to calm their nerves, stop panic attacks, relieve physical pain, study for an exam, enhance athletic performance or make them more confident in social situations. If there are no healthy alternatives in place for teens and young adults increased drug use will likely persist.
  • A voluntary choice turns into a physical and psychological need – Being late for school or work, not keeping up with school work, fighting with siblings and parents, inability to wake up on time, staying awake all night are al example of a deteriorating condition and that the drugs and alcohol have taken ahold.


Parents will find comfort and hope in the fact that there is a solution to their child’s drug and alcohol dependence. The first obstacle to overcome is a parent’s own denial that there is in fact a serious problem. The next hurdle is finding needed support. New Life House has a plethora of resources for parents to draw from. Into the Heart of Addiction is a great place to start.


  • celia
    Posted at 05:13h, 17 November Reply

    Thank you for posting this article we need to be reminded of the living pain cause by this disease. Thank you for New Life for helping each of the men who are living there.

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