Addiction in Adolescents

Information for Parents/Caregiver by National Addictions Management Service (

What is Addiction?

Addiction is chronic, progressive, and relapse-prone illness which can be fatal if left untreated. There are two main types of addiction: substance (drugs, alcohol, inhalants) and behavioural (gambling, gaming, sex).
The characteristics of addictions are as follows:

  • Continuation of the addictive activity despite negative consequences
  • A need to increase the frequency of the activity to achieve the same desired effect
  • Discontinuation or decrease in the frequency of the activitiy are often associated with withdrawal symptoms.
  • Inability to cut down or stop an activity on one’s own

Addiction in Adolescents

Adolescents are considered a high risk populations for substance abuse and gaming addiction, given their heightened curiosity and impulsivity. They may also be exposed to substance abuse and unhealthy gaming habits because of media and peer influence.

Adolescents with addictions differ from adults with addictions in many ways. Their addictions are brought about by different causes, and they are often less able to see how the consequences of their addcition may affect their future.

Have you noticed any of the following symptoms in your child?

  • Sudden deterioriation in school performance
  • Significant changes in personal habits
  • Significant changes in behaviour or mood
  • Decreased involvement in positive social activities, e.g a game of soccer with friends
  • Poor personal grooming
  • Loss of appetite

If you answered ‘Yes’ to most of the above, you may wish to speak to a general practitioner or an addictions professional from NAMS to discuss your concerns.

Adolescents with untreated addictions frequently say that there is nothing wrong with them as they falsely believe that they can control their addictive activity.

Most adolescents receiving treatment for addiction are brought in for treatment by family and friends.

How Can You Help?

If you are an adult who is in regular contact with the child (parents, relatives, teachers, counsellors, etc), you can help by:

  • being actively involved in the child’s life. Lack of supervision places the adolescent at risk of engaging in risky behaviours.
  • creating an environment for open and honest communication.
  • knowing the warning signs and where to seek help.
  • being supportive and encouraging.
  • refraining from accusing them or condemning misbehaviour.
  • seeking professional help. Early evaluation and treatment is crucial for child’s recovery.

Common Myths about Addiction

Myth : Addiction is a voluntary
Fact : prolonged exposure to the addictive activity alters the brain in ways that result in powerful urges and compulsions, These brain changes make it hard for an addicted individual to quit.

Myth: Addiction only hapens to people with low socioeconomic status, or at an older age.
Fact : Anyone can develop addiction. Signs of addiction among adolescents are often overlooked.

Myth : An addict has to hit rock bottom and voluntarily seek help before he/she can get better.
Fact : Treatment does not need to be voluntary to be effective. The sooner an addicted individual receives treatmen, the better.

Myth : The child is just experimenting
Fact : Early use of substances is a risk factor for the development of an addiction. Experimentation is often the precursor to addiction. Experimentation is often the precursor to addiction.

Myth : If treatment for addictions were effective, people wouldn’t relapse.
Fact: Treatment is not magic or an immediate cure for addiction. Because addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease, relapse are part of the recovery process.

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