Saturday February 23rd 2019

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The Difference Between Addiction and Normal Teen Behavior

Teen Addiction, or Not?

Are you noticing new behaviors in your teen or adolescent? You may not be alone. In fact, the teen years can be a time of both enlightenment and confusion for many adolescents. They progressively discover how much potential they have in life and what kind of people they hope to become as they near young adulthood.

As empowering as this stage of life can be for many teens, they also often experience confusion and perhaps even fear about what the future has in store for them. This uncertainty combined with the fluctuating hormone levels in their brains manifests into behaviors that many parents find unsettling. Still, these emotional ups and downs are part and parcel of the teenage years.

It is only when these behaviors take a turn for the unusual that parents may have reason to rethink the manner in which their teenagers are acting. You can decide if it is time to seek treatment for your child by learning about the differences between normal teen behavior and teenage drug or alcohol addiction. More here on the difference between normal teenage development and signs of possible problems. Then, we invite your questions and comments at the end.

Normal Teenage Behaviors

Typical teenage behaviors are often more extreme than those exhibited during early and pre-teen adolescence. Children under the age of 13 can be boisterous, highly emotional, and even defiant. However, in most cases they typically will align their actions with the wills of their parents or caretakers. They often fear alienating their parents and siblings and instead will seek to please more than frustrate or anger their loved ones.

Teenagers, on the other hand, often strive to establish their own identities, even if it means developing personalities and preferences that are unlike those of their parents or siblings. This period of personal emotional, mental, and physical growth can cause many teens to push the proverbial boundaries and even question their parents’ methods of raising them. This questioning can quickly turn into bouts of arguing and anger.

As distressing as the period it is can be to parents, questioning authority  is a it is also typical behavior that most teenagers exhibit during this time in their lives. 

Likewise, many teens want to separate themselves from their parents, brothers, and sisters. They strive for more privacy and may resent having to join in family activities. They prefer to spend more time alone in their bedrooms than watching TV with their parents or playing games with their siblings.

However, they often have no problem spending copious amounts of time with their friends from school, church, or the neighborhood. They many times will prefer to hang out with friends than with their own families.

This preference can distress many moms and dads, and even make them wonder if their teens even like them anymore. In reality, their desire to be with friends is normal for most teens and will balance itself out by the time teenagers reach their early to mid-twenties.

To summarize, normal teen behaviors include:

1. Bouts of emotional outbursts.
2. Questioning parental authority.
3. The formation of separate identity.
4. Physical and emotional separation from the family.

Normal teen behavior, as alarming and disruptive as it can be at times, is nothing for parents to worry about or for which prompt action is needed. Maintaining firm but loving disciplinary boundaries and giving positive reinforcement to teens can help parents overcome many of the worst bouts of teen defiance. Further, positive reinforcement and firm boundaries often result in acceptable behavior change during normal teenage development.

Teenage Addiction Behaviors

In fact, statistics show that more than 20 percent of 12th graders in the U.S. experiment with or regularly use illicit drugs. This high frequency of teen drug use calls for parents to educate themselves on the warning signs of teen substance addiction and become familiar with which behaviors are associated with drug or alcohol dependency.

In comparison to normal teenage development, Positive reinforcement and firm disciplinary boundaries do little to curb behaviors that are linked to teenage drug and alcohol addictions. Teenagers who are in the throes of substance abuse often will not conform with the wills of their parents and instead act out in unusual, alarming, and extremely disruptive ways. So, what are some of the signs of possible drug use, addiction, or problems with alcohol?

Is teenage drug use on the rise? In fact, statistics show that more than 20 percent of 12th graders in the U.S. experiment with or regularly use illicit drugs. This high frequency of teen drug use calls for parents to educate themselves on the warning signs of teen substance addiction and become familiar with which behaviors are associated with drug or alcohol dependency.

1. Decreased enjoyment or participation in favorite activities.

To start, many teenagers who are addicted to drugs and drinking will exhibit a marked decrease in enjoyment of their favorite activities. Even if your child does not enjoy spending time with you, he or she probably will enjoy going to the movies, listening to music, playing video games, or taking part in other typical teen activities. When he or she no longer shows interest in these pastimes, this disinterest could be the result of a drug or alcohol addiction.

2. Extreme emotional states.

Likewise, addicted teens will exhibit extreme emotions that can range from hopelessness and despondency to aggression and anxiety. They may even try to fight you or threaten you or their siblings with physical harm. This behavior is common in teens who are drinking and using drugs and calls for immediate action that can include calling the police or checking your child into a treatment facility.

3. Physical signs of drug or alcohol use.

Many parents can tell if their teenagers are addicted to drugs or drinking simply by looking at them. Some of the outward physical signs to look for include:

  • blood shot eyes
  • disheveled appearance
  • poor grooming or hygiene
  • unexplained weight loss
  • sores on the face, arms, and hands
  • missing or decayed teeth

You also may notice the odor of marijuana, alcohol, and other substances on your teenager’s clothing. Your teen may also be hungry all of the time or have what is known as the “munchies,” a behavior associated with marijuana use.

4. Increased reports of physical ailments.

Addicted teenagers likewise will frequently complain of unexplained aches and pains. They may suffer more often from headaches, back aches, and stomach distress. Their physical symptoms may not respond to over-the-counter products like Tylenol or antacids.

5. A loss of interest in school or education.

Finally, a teenager who is in the throes of drug or alcohol addiction often will show no interest in going to school and may have frequent tardies or unexplained absences. He or she may have poor academic performance and no longer maintain high grades in classes at school. Some teenagers also get into fights and are subject to frequent disciplinary measures.


If your teenager shows any of the warning signs that come with teen addiction, it is critical that you seek professional help. Substance abuse in teenagers can be treated with measures that range from hospitalization to outpatient counseling. Addiction behaviors in teens are more extreme and worrisome and should be a warning sign for parents to take immediate action now.


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About Dr. Jeff Nalin, Psy.D.

Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. Dr. Nalin is the Founder and Clinical Director of Paradigm Malibu and Paradigm San Francisco Adolescent Treatment Centers. He has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.