The bestselling author and well-known psychiatrist Dr. John Sharp from the Harvard Medical School and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA explains that as far as scientists can tell, genetics is only responsible for about 50 percent of the disease of addiction. This is good news for individuals with substance abuse in their family as they have a 50-50 chance of not having a genetic predisposition to the problem. However, due to the way the adolescent brain develops, all teens are somewhat primed to at least try drugs or alcohol if the right environmental factors come into play. Since an area of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex, responsible for impulse control and reasoning abilities, is not mature until approximately age 25, it causes teens to have a propensity to engage in risky behaviors such as experimentation with drugs.
Genetics and the Vulnerable Teen Brain Can Be a Combo Ripe for Addiction
If you combine an individual with a genetic predisposition towards addiction and a developing teen brain stimulated by risk, you have a person who will be highly susceptible to a substance abuse problem. Add in friends who are experimenting and/or parents who don’t discuss the dangers of drugs and alcohol into the mix, and the odds of a severe problem escalate even more.
Early Intervention Is the Best Defense Against Addiction in Adulthood
Some parents will find out their teen tried alcohol at a party or smoked marijuana a few times with friends and will brush it off as kids just being kids. However, this can be a critical time for many who will eventually go down the road of addiction. If parents intervened at the first sign of a problem, discussed the dangers of drugs and alcohol on the vulnerable developing teen brain, and got the child counseling to see what issues may be underlying their desire to use, many potential addicts may be stopped in their tracks.
However, for some, stopping drug use once they’ve started may be far more complicated than that. Dr. Sharp points out that staying in constant communication with your teen without enabling them is the best strategy for getting them the help they need. He suggests talking to individuals in long-term recovery as well as addiction experts to understand the best way to walk this fine line of parenting. Knowing they have a family who loves them but will not support their drug use in any way may be what saves an addict on the brink.
Dr. Sharp explains, “You can influence the behavior of your loved one. You want to continuously let him or her know how much you care and what your support can mean.”
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