The Complexity Of Adolescence

By Robert C. Ciampi, LCSW

young boy playing guitar

I would like to share a topic that a colleague and I presented several years ago entitled The Complexity of Adolescence. Adolescence is a transitional stage of physical, emotional, cognitive, and psychological development generally occurring between puberty and legal
adulthood, but largely characterized as beginning and ending with the teenage years. These years are broken down into 3 stages:

10-15 (early adolescence)
14-18 (middle adolescence)
17-22 (late adolescence)

Adolescents face a growing number of challenges including depression and anxiety, adolescent suicide, peer pressure, self esteem, and gang violence.

In this article, we will look at a pervasive problem teens are facing and unfortunately a growing problem – adolescent substance abuse. We will first look at a number of drugs of abuse, and then we will outline signs in the home, signs at school and physical and
emotional signs that may suggest that your teen is abusing drugs. We will then look at some interventions that can be taken to help teens take the necessary steps to recovery.

Drugs of Abuse

Alcohol and other drugs of abuse are vast, extremely dangerous, and unfortunately easy to obtain. Below we will look at a number of the common drugs teens’ abuse that may develop into an addiction or cause death.

• Bath Salts (Bloom, Cloud Nine, Vanilla Sky) is the name given to a family of drugs that have one or more manmade chemicals. Use of bath salts can cause severe intoxication, psychosis, and other dangerous health effects.
• Cocaine (Coke, Blow, Rock) is an addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Cocaine comes in two forms: powdered and crack. Powdered cocaine is often “snorted” and crack is normally smoked which may lead to addiction and death.
• Cough and Cold Medicines (Robotripping, Tussin, Candy) can be obtained either over the counter or by prescription. When abused, can cause hallucinations, delusions, addiction, and death.
Heroin (H, Horse, Smack, Dope) is a type of opioid drug that can be a white or brown powder or a black, sticky substance called “black tar heroin.” Heroin is mixed with water and injected with a needle. It can also be smoked or snorted. Using heroin repeatedly can result in: tolerance, withdrawal, and addiction. Heroin is an insidious drug that is currently cheap to buy and is often an alternative to the more expensive prescription pain killers Oxycontin, Percocet, and Vicodin. Many deaths have been attributed to heroin overdose.
• Inhalants (Laughing Gas, Poppers, Whippets) are chemicals found in ordinary household cleaning products which can be very harmful to the brain and body and can lead to death by suffocation.
• Marijuana (Mary Jane, Weed, Reefer, Pot, Grass) is a plant that when dried can be smoked in a pipe, rolled into a cigarette, or mixed into food. A regular marijuana user can experience problems in judgment, coordination, and other cognitive functions as well as paranoia, anxiety and depression.
• MDMA (XTC, X, Love Drug, Molly) is a manmade drug that produces energizing and hallucinogenic effects. MDMA is known as a “club drug” which can cause dehydration, anxiety, and depression and can lead to death if medical issues are not attended to in time.
• Methamphetamine (Meth, Speed, Crystal Meth, Ice, Crank) is a very addictive stimulant drug made into a white pill or a clear “crystal” rock. Methamphetamine is swallowed, snorted, injected with a needle, or smoked. Methamphetamine use can quickly lead
to addiction and death. A noticeable sign of a meth user is drastic changes in appearance and teeth that have begun to rot away.
• Prescription Medications (Opiates: Oxy, Hillbilly Heroin, Vikes; Stimulants, Speed, Uppers, Smart Drug) are doctor ordered medications that are usually stolen, bought on the street, or ordered illegally online. Opiates are a class of drugs that are prescribed for pain after medical procedures such as surgery. Stimulates can be prescribed for ADHD, Narcolepsy, and Obesity. They can be taken in pill form, snorted, or injected. Abuse can lead to addiction and death due to overtaxing of the heart and/or respiratory system.

Note: Although the following signs may infer that the adolescent is using drugs, there could be other reasons for changes in an individual that are not drug related. However, (3) areas of concern may be:

• Signs in the home
• Signs concerning school and school work
• Physical and emotional signs

Signs in the Home

• Loss of interest in family activities
• Disappearance of money or other valuables
• Lying about friends or activities
• Not coming home on time
• Drug paraphernalia such as rolling papers, pipes, small plastic bags, burned aluminum foil, etc.
• Spending a lot of time alone in their room

Signs Concerning School / School Work

• Sudden drop in grades
• Loss of interest in learning
• Skipping classes / sleeping in class
• Poor attitude toward school authority
• Not doing homework
• Not informing parents of teachers meetings, open houses, etc.

Physical and Emotional Signs

• Wide mood swings / “hair-trigger” temper
• Hanging out with “new” friends
• Drastic weight loss
• Poor hygiene / always looks unkempt
• Always needs money and may lie about what it will be used for
• Overly tired or hyperactive
• Smell of alcohol or marijuana on breath
• Cigarette burn holes on front of shirt or pants.

What to do

• Have a talk with your adolescent and discuss the changes you have noticed
• Support your adolescent, but do not play the role of a friend – you are the parent!
• Set the rules in the home – use leverage
• Do not feel guilty about enforcing the rules
• Offer to help adolescent with detox, rehab, relapse prevention, AA / NA meetings
• Use “tough love” if necessary

As outlined in the article above, it may seem like a daunting task for parents, teachers, law enforcement, and counselors to prevent adolescent substance abuse in teens of every age. However, through education, communication between the adolescent and their parents or caregivers, and community law enforcement projects, teen substance abuse is not a given; many adolescents have made a decision to not get into drugs of any kind and to focus on their education and future instead. If an adolescent does begin to abuse drugs, it is important to be able to spot the signs and to employ some of the interventions mentioned above. Parents and caregivers should have a “zero tolerance” policy in the home and elsewhere and not seek out the title of being a “cool” parent. To help your adolescent grow to be a healthy adult in body and mind, BE THE PARENT. Your teen will thank you later for your “tough love” now.

Robert C. Ciampi earned a BA in Psychology from Montclair State University and his MSW at Rutgers University. He worked in community mental health centers and hospitals as a clinician working with individuals with serious and persistent mental illness as well as
patients who were dually diagnosed with mental illness and substance abuse. He went on to work for a behavioral healthcare consulting firm which helped healthcare facilities reestablish themselves as well as coordinating a program that provided employee assistance help for problems in and out of the workplace. In 2010 he went into private practice. He is also the Director of inpatient social work services at Bergen Regional Medical Center – the largest hospital in the State of New Jersey.