Avoidance, through substance abuse, is a common response of teens to stress.
When teens have had many early experiences wherein they’ve felt disconnected, left to deal with their stress alone, the opioid pathways in their brain get reinforced.
The Opioid pathway can be likened to the dissociative state seen in a possum going unconscious in the face of an overwhelming threat. Young people who rely heavily on the opioid pathway may find themselves experiencing states of dissociation in the face of stress.
When these young people come of age to be introduced to mind-altering substances, they may be more prone to addiction. Since dissociation can parallel the experience of “getting high” – a familiar way for them of avoiding pain – they may completely skip the developmental process of learning how to manage their anxiety and tolerate uncomfortable feelings, in favor of self-medicating.
One major key to supporting these adolescents lies in caregivers learning to strengthen and reinforce their relationship with the “at risk” teen. As young people discover that turning towards their parents, teachers, therapist, siblings and trusted friends is a more fulfilling choice than turning towards isolation and emotional numbing the “connection,” or Oxytocin pathway, can become their preferred way of self-soothing.
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