How does drug and alcohol addiction start, anyway?
The chemical answer’s straightforward enough. Use any psychoactive substance over time, and a tolerance to the substance’s effects will develop, meaning larger doses are needed to experience the same effect. Eventually, that tolerance grows into the compulsive behaviors we call addiction.
But that’s an unsatisfying answer. Unless you’re a chemist or work in healthcare, the answer above probably doesn’t scratch any itches. When people ask how addiction starts, they’re usually not asking about what the chemicals actually do, they want to know the outside causes. And like so much about addiction, there’s not an easy answer.
Trauma, peer pressure, curiosity, personality … it’s a long list. All of these things play a role in starting and driving addiction. But interestingly, if you talk to current (and recovering) substance users, you might discover a common thread:
All of them probably started their substance use while they were young.
Why Are Younger People More Susceptible To Addiction?
Let’s get something out the way first: intelligence and judgement are very different things, especially in teens. One high school kid might be taking AP courses and maintaining a 4.0 while experimenting with drugs and alcohol every chance they get … and another kid might struggle to pay attention in class and won’t so much as look at a hard seltzer.
Part of that is the way our brains develop. In humans, our brains aren’t really grown up until we’re around age 25 or so. Researchers say that’s about the time we start thinking with an area called the prefrontal cortex, which helps us plan complex behaviors, make the right decisions and judge social situations accurately.
As for teens, well … all of us were teens once, and like all people with developing brains we were doing the majority of our thinking and reasoning with the amygdala, a hard-to-pronounce region of the brain which chiefly governs emotion.
Everything makes more sense now, doesn’t it?
It’s why teens so often have trouble understanding the outcomes of their decisions – those decisions are made through the brain’s emotional center and grasping outcomes isn’t always a priority. It’s also why teens get bored easily.
Boredom can be a driver of addiction for young and old alike, and if you ask anyone who experimented with drugs in their early years boredom was likely one of the reasons. But for younger people, a recent study seems to show early experimentation can be a quick gateway into addiction.
Adolescents Much More Likely To Develop Use Disorders
In the study, researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse examined the results from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Surveys on Drug Use and Health from 2015 to 2018. The researchers looked at data from two demographic groups: adolescents aged 12 to 17 years old, and a second group of young adults aged 18 to 25.
The results were alarming. Adolescents were far more likely to develop substance use disorders within a year of first using cannabis or misusing prescription medications than those in the young adult group. For example, nearly 11% of teens who tried cannabis developed a cannabis use disorder within 12 months, compared to 6.4% of their older counterparts.
The discrepancy held true for other substances as well: adolescents were markedly more likely to develop substance use disorders for prescription painkillers, stimulants, and tranquilizers as well.
That’s not to say the young adult group fared much better. Data showed them being much more likely to develop substance use disorders for heroin and methamphetamines within a year of trying the substances for the first time.
According to research cited by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention), teens often use a wide variety of substances:
- Two-thirds of high school students have tried alcohol by their senior year
- Half of high school students reported using cannabis at least once
- Nearly 2 out of every 10 high school seniors said they abused prescription medicine at least once
In addition to developing substance use disorders later in life, the CDC says substance use can affect teen brain development, cause risky behaviors like drunk / drugged driving, and even cause health problems later in life.
“Research has shown that brain development continues into a person’s 20s, and that age of drug initiation is a very important risk factor for developing addiction,” said study co-author Emily B. Einstein, PhD in a National Institutes of Health press release. “Offering timely treatment and support to young people who need it must be a public health priority.”
Treatment and Support Works Wonders
Addiction may start a multitude of ways, but it always ends the same way: isolation, destruction and finally death. It can seem like an overpowering problem particularly if it starts at a young age, but it isn’t – addiction is treatable.
A drug rehab or addiction center provider that takes a holistic view of treatment is an invaluable aid in creating lasting recovery. More than a provider of medicine, rehab acts as a partner, welcoming you into a community of care when you enter treatment, and gives you the tools you need to succeed in your new life.
One of those tools? Sober living homes.
There’s simply no better place to live once you’ve advanced through recovery. Living with a group of like-minded people in a sober home keeps you accountable to your goals, allows you to focus on recovery without triggers, and gives you a ready-made safety net to rely on if you’re struggling.
Finding a sober home can be challenging, though. With SoberLivingNearYou.com, finding a place to live as you recover from addiction is easier than ever. With thousands of listings available, finding your sober home is as easy as pressing “search.”
Find your recovery home today with SoberLivingNearYou.com!