Lessons from Laura

Lessons from Laura

The Path to Addiction Can Start Early

Lesson from Laura by Carolyn Bradfield

In January 2018, I wrote an article each day that focuses on the lessons I've learned from my daughter Laura who died from a drug overdose at age 29. She struggled with addiction for 15 years, an uphill fight for her and millions of others that often ends as hers did in a hospital room, connected to tubes, and slipping away from this world to the next.

We had a great vacation in Seaside, Florida when Laura turned 18. That's her brother Ross with her. But by that time, Laura was already 3 years into her battle with addiction. Does it surprise you that she was 15 when she starting using drugs and alcohol and already an addict? If so, let me give you the facts.

The path to addiction starts early

Nine out of ten people with substance addictions first begin using before they even turn 18. In fact, substance abuse before the age of 15 can make a person 6.5 times more likely to develop a full-blown substance use disorder later in life.  90% of people suffering with addiction began misusing substances before they left high school.

What makes an adolescent so vulnerable to addiction? In another article, I shared that addiction is a disease of the brain where the pleasure centers react to the presence of a substance by producing high levels of dopamine. This kicks off cravings and compulsive behavior leading to more and more substance use.

The brain is still developing

During adolescence, the part of the brain that controls reasoning is growing and developing at a rapid pace; however, that process is not fully completed until the individual turns 25. The part of the brain that seeks pleasure indulges in compulsive behavior and takes risk is much more dominant during teenage years.

As a result, teenage years are marked by the most risk-taking. Teens become impulsive, they misbehave and experiment outside of the boundaries and rules parents and teachers have set for them, This behavior is not as intentional as you think it might be. Their brains are telling them that the consequences don't really matter. Teenagers lack full control over their impulses.

This period of brain development puts a teenager at increased risk for making poor decisions, one of those being experimentation with drugs and alcohol. Teenagers have dopamine levels that are really just flat which might explain how they get bored easily and want to try new things. When they choose to experi ment with drugs, the amount of dopamine released in their brain is actually much higher than that of adults. Repeat the drug use, seek out risky behavior and that teenager is going down the path to addiction. The brain is becoming rewired, but not in the way it was intended.

My Takeaway

Don't fool yourself into thinking that it's a natural part of growing up for your teenager to raid your liquor cabinet, smoke pot or experiment. It's like playing Russian roulette with their brain. 1 of 10 teenagers has the brain biology based on family history or other factors to accelerate down the path to addiction. In a future Lesson from Laura, I'm going to give you a simple strategy to take some of those choices off the table for your teenager until they get a little older, their brain has become more mature, and they are less vulnerable to bad wiring. Remember, Laura began her journey down the road of addiction at 15. Look at the picture. She was already 3 years down that path.

InterAct LifeLine

InterAct provides technology for Virtual Care and Opioid Education Programs for use by treatment programs, state and local governments and non-profits.  Carolyn Bradfield founded InterAct LifeLine in 2018, shortly after her daughter overdosed and died.

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