Acknowledging ongoing brain development by helping teen-agers be better at self-regulation is one of the surest ways for youth-serving professionals and parents to address teen-age substance use/dependence – including prescription drug diversion.
Although most of our brain material and size is in place at the start of adolescence, MRI studies and other techniques used by researchers tell us that several important developmental processes in the brain continue throughout adolescence. Frequently, the result is a teenager whose body may be fully developed, but not so his or her brain. As this essential “hard wiring” is developing in the brain, what we as parents, treatment professionals and others experience is a teenager who is moody, many times reckless and impulsive, increasingly secretive, more prone to be influenced by friends, and less interested in thinking through consequences.
Parents and treatment providers cannot stop brain maturation but we can shape it. Always considering the possibility that some youth may make the potentially life-altering decision to become involved with drugs, including prescription drugs, one path for parents and treatment providers may be to teach important skills that may be a “weakness” for the adolescent brain. SAMHSA’s NREPP process lists these skills as impulse control; “second” thought processes; social decision-making; dealing with risk situations, and taking healthy risks.
Parents, doctors, treatment providers and educators are crucial to influencing teenagers’ decisions for or against drinking or drug-taking. Teaching developmentally appropriate self-regulation skills may make better sense than asking something of a young person whose brain isn’t (yet) capable of delivering. Certainly, exercising developmentally appropriate influence to account for those times when a teen-ager cannot think for him or herself is at the top of the list.