You may have heard that teenagers with learning and attention issues are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs than teens who don’t have these issues. Do you have reason to be worried about your teen?
Not all teens with learning and attention issues will abuse drugs and alcohol. In fact, many don’t. But it’s important to understand the connection between learning and attention issues and substance abuse. Knowing how to identify signs of substance abuse is crucial for keeping your child healthy and safe.
Substance Abuse and Learning and Attention Issues: Likely Links
There are a number of studies that suggest teens with learning issues, such as dyslexia, and attention issues, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may be more likely to turn to substance abuse. There may be several reasons:
- Poor self-esteem
- Difficulties with schoolwork
- The desire to be accepted by peers
All these can affect teens with learning and attention issues. They’re also factors that make teens more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
Research has found that teens with ADHD may be more likely to abuse alcohol, marijuana and cocaine than teens without ADHD. Some teens with ADHD may even become dependent on those substances.
Sometimes kids with ADHD have poor impulse control and want to do things that give them pleasure—even if those things are dangerous. And some teens turn to drugs in an effort to improve their attention spans or deal with the frustrations that can come from living with ADHD.
Possible Signs of Substance Abuse
It may not be obvious if your teen is abusing substances such as drugs or alcohol. Here are signs to watch for:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Pupils of eyes extremely small or large
- Secretive behavior; won’t let you into the bedroom
- Change in group of friends
- Lying or stealing
- Loss of appetite (cocaine use)
- Increased appetite (marijuana use)
- Smell of alcohol on breath, or unusual-smelling breath (inhalant drugs)
- Sluggishness or constant sleeping
Some of these signs can also be due to emotional issues, such as depression or anxiety. Before you jump to any conclusions, talk to your teen. Encourage her to be honest with you about what’s going on.
Treatment Reduces Risks
Perhaps the best way to prevent substance abuse problems is by helping your child find treatments for learning and attention issues. A child with ADHD might benefit from enrolling in a social skills class. Or you can check with your child’s doctor to see if medication to treat ADHD is a good option.
Studies show that kids with ADHD who take medication for it are less likely to abuse substances and become dependent on them. That might be because teens who take ADHD medication have fewer ADHD symptoms, such as lack of impulse control.
Experts also think that if kids’ learning and attention issues are treated when they’re adolescents, they will be less likely to abuse substances as teens.
If you’re concerned that your teen may be at risk for substance abuse, consider these ideas for reducing risky behavior, as well as resources for at-risk teens.