How COVID-19 Is Affecting Teens’ Mental Health

This post is contributed by CHOICES counselor Joanna Robertson, M.MFT, LMFT, LPC

Like most of us, adolescents had their world turned upside down back in March by the Coronavirus pandemic. As teens prepare to return to school, I want to share a few of the ways COVID-19 has affected teens’ mental health, how this impacts them long-term, and how you can help.

The adolescent brain is still growing and developing. The prefrontal cortex, the section of the brain responsible for critical thinking and impulse control, is not fully developed until about 25 years old. Thus, adolescents may need additional support when it comes to regulation, which includes sleeping patterns, use of time and technology usage. Because of the pandemic, students lost the structure of school time, and when coupled with a lack of parental support, this left students to navigate on their own. This led to odd sleeping patterns and overall dysregulation, which can impact coursework, family relationships, and mental health.

Teens mental health

What are the challenges teens face in the pandemic?

Students lost consistent access to friends and adult supports. One study found that 80% of adolescent girls feel “more lonely and isolated than before” (The Rox Institute). While teachers, counselors, and mentors are doing their best to remain connected, it proves a challenging situation. Many teens are experiencing an increase in their sense of isolation, depression, and loneliness.

In addition to navigating schoolwork at home, many students have taken on new responsibilities, including childcare, housework, and part-time jobs. This puts additional pressure on teens to use their time and energy in a balanced way, which is already a challenge for the adolescent brain. It also makes it challenging for these students to keep up with schoolwork and can cause many to fall even further behind.

These are only a few of the factors impacting teens as a result of COVID-19. If teens were already using alcohol and/or drugs, they likely continue to do so throughout the pandemic. As their stress increases and their access to healthy coping support decreases, they are more at risk for developing substance use disorders. Further, previous crises show that teenagers may develop substance use problems after the crisis has passed. It is important that caring adults stay actively engaged in supporting the adolescents in their life.

How you can help teens.

Adolescents are creative, resilient, and resourceful, especially when they have supportive adults in their life. If you are wondering how you can help, start with the teens in your life. Talk to them about how they are experiencing things and ask what support they might need. Help them create structure. It’s something they may not want in the moment, but it’s something they need, and need help creating. Connect them with mental health resources either through their school or in the community. Finally, be aware of your own coping methods and responses. Set an example by finding healthy coping skills, such as meditation, peer support, counseling, and exercise.

If you need support, The Council is the place to start. Call us today at 713.914.0556 and ask about our virtual services.

The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction

For decades, the professional approach to addiction has been shifting away from shaming and blaming, and toward the belief that addiction is a normal and common biological response to adversity experienced in childhood. The popularization of this game-changing perspective is credited to Dr. Daniel Sumrok, director of the Center for Addiction Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine, who began his crusade to change the narrative around addiction after treating Vietnam veterans with PTSD in the early 1980s.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) affect long-term health, and can include physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; living with a family member who’s addicted to substances; depression and other mental illnesses; parental divorce or separation; incarceration or deportation of a family member; racism; involvement in the foster care system, and more. Clinicians like Dr. Sumrok administer an ACE assessment upon meeting a patient for the first time, and for good reason.

childhood trauma and addiction

According to ACE studies, about 64% of people have at least one ACE, which can double to quadruple the likelihood of using drugs or alcohol, particularly at an early age. Having an ACE score of 4 nearly doubles the risk of heart disease and lung cancer and increases the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic by 700%. People with a score of 5 or higher are seven to 10 times more likely to use illegal drugs and become addicted. Furthermore, these studies show that it doesn’t matter what type of trauma the patient experienced. Different combinations of ACEs produce the same statistical health consequences.

Considering potential childhood trauma is necessary for addressing one’s addiction.

This requisite has fortunately also normalized the concept of addiction as “ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking” – it’s something one adopts as a coping behavior because they weren’t provided with a healthy alternative when they were young. This approach is not only supported by psychological research, it’s also the compassionate route to treating clients with substance abuse problems. Rather than labeling someone as an addict and punishing them for their behavior, clinicians like those at The Council find it’s kinder and more productive to address ACEs with their clients, and to help them seek comfort in other behaviors. Since its inception, the staff at the Center for Recovering Families is dedicated to helping their clients by looking at their trauma when appropriate and providing the necessary skills to deal with their feelings.

For more information about ACEs, read here. To calculate your ACE score, click here.

For questions about The Council’s assessment and treatment options, or if you or a loved one needs help, call (713) 914-0556 or contact us here.

CDC Reports High Tobacco Use Among Youth in 2019

The Center for Disease Control released a report earlier this month on tobacco product use among middle and high school students in public and private schools across America, reminding The Council on Recovery that although we’ve made great strides in the past decade, we still have much work to do in the coming years in our fight to reduce substance use and abuse by minors.

The National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) is an annual, cross-sectional, self-administered survey of U.S. middle school and high school students attending public and private schools that uses a representative sample to estimate how many youths are using tobacco, and what factors contribute to this number, such as type of tobacco product, exposure to tobacco marketing, perceptions of harm, and more. Here are its major findings:

Over half of all U.S. high school students (53.3 %, around 8 million) have used a tobacco product.

Almost a third of high school students (31.2%) reported they were currently using tobacco products. E-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product among high schoolers, with 27.5% reporting they had used one in the past 30 days.

A fourth of all U.S. middle school students (24.3%, around 2.9 million) reported using a tobacco product.

About 12.5% of middle school students reported they were currently using tobacco products. E-cigarettes were also the most commonly used tobacco product with middle schoolers, with 10.5% reported using them.

E-cigarettes remain a major public health concern.

The prevalence of cigarette smoking among students was the lowest ever recorded by the study since 1999. This is no cause to celebrate, however, as this is due to the emergence and popularization of e-cigarettes, which have been recorded as the most popular tobacco product among youths since 2014. In 2017-2018, the use of e-cigarettes increased by 77.8%, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to declare e-cigarette use a national epidemic last December. This 2019 report reports even higher e-cigarette usage, but takes into consideration changes to the survey itself that could have affected outcomes.

This survey acts as a reminder to The Council that there is still much work to be done in middle schools and high schools across the major Houston area. Through the CHOICES program, The Council will continue to meet schools where they are at to help students and their families resist the seductive appeals of e-cigarette and other tobacco product marketing, and learn the risks and consequences of substance use at such an early age.

“Longitudinal studies have shown that youth vapers are four times more likely to smoke combustible cigarettes than non-vapers,” says Patrick Hagler, CHOICES counselor. “CHOICES can help by educating teens and parents about the real consequences of vaping.”

The Council on Recovery and Prevention Resource Center 6 have also teamed up to host a Houston Vaping Summit on February 21, 2020, with the goal to educate local school administrations (as well as healthcare, law enforcement, mental health professionals, and parents) on vaping and to equip them with the tools they need to respond promptly and effectively.

In positive news, the federal government has raised the legal age for purchasing tobacco products to 21, effective in the summer of 2020.

For more information on the National Youth Tobacco Survey, click here.

If your teen or child needs our help, call (713) 914-4100. For information on how to create a CHOICES program at your school, please contact (281) 200-9272.

Why is The Council Addressing Vaping?

This post is a contribution by Mel Taylor, President and CEO of The Council on Recovery.

If you follow The Council’s work, you’ve probably seen us discuss vaping quite a bit lately. But aside from the alarming news headlines, you may be wondering, “Why does The Council care about vaping?” Vaping is legal in Texas, after all, for people over the age of 21. And advocates of e-cigarettes argue that in comparison to traditional cigarettes, vaping is the better option. But as alcohol has proven, when used to excess, many things can be harmful even if they are legal. Vaping is no different. The Council believes unequivocally that vaping is dangerous and deserves our community’s attention.

Unfortunately, a lack of reliable information on the matter combined with sensational nightly news stories can tempt us into dismissing this phenomenon as just another overhyped story. Here at The Council, our goal is not to scare you – rather, we want to empower you with information you can trust to make your own choice.

So, why does The Council care about vaping?

The nicotine and other chemicals in vape liquid produce a pleasure response that changes the brain and can lead to addiction.

Nicotine produces a dopamine response in the brain, which then primes the brain’s sensitivity to rewarding stimuli. Anytime a substance alters the way the brain functions, there is potential for abuse and addiction. This is particularly true for young people whose brains are not yet fully developed, and are highly susceptible to changes in the way their brains respond to pleasure. Research consistently demonstrates that adolescents who vape are 3 times more likely to subsequently smoke traditional cigarettes.

But vaping isn’t safe for adults, either.

Many adults have seen first-hand the destruction wreaked by a lifetime of smoking cigarettes, so vaping may seem safe in comparison. Indeed, the e-cigarette industry originally marketed their products as a quit-aid, which has helped to perpetuate this myth. Vaping does not burn tobacco – the source of carcinogenic tar in traditional cigarette smoke – however, it does expose the respiratory system to nicotine and a cocktail of other harmful chemicals, and there is mounting evidence that it causes similar long-term lung damage as traditional cigarettes. What’s more, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation device. So, what does it all mean?

The long-term impact of vaping remains to be fully seen, but we know enough to say vaping is an urgent problem and immediate action is needed. As this problem develops, our learning will continue to grow. Just last week the Centers for Disease Control announced a breakthrough finding, naming vitamin E acetate as the potential culprit behind recent vaping related lung injuries and deaths, and helping to advance our understanding of this challenge. For now, The Council is busy doing what we have done for the last 75 years: supporting our community. The Council has weathered many such epidemics in our lifetime – from crack cocaine, to methamphetamine, to opioids, and now vaping. As ever, we remain committed to serving families who are impacted by addiction with information they can trust and best-in-class treatment.

Click here for more information on how The Council is tackling the vaping epidemic, and save the date for our Vaping Summit on February 21, 2020.

‘Sesame Street’ Addresses Impact of Addiction on Children

This guest post is written by Kierstin Collins, Clinical Manager of Children and Adolescent Services at The Council

Earlier this month, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, broadcast an initiative to support children and families affected by parental addiction. The newest Muppet to join the Sesame Street group, Karli, is featured in the initiative, whose mom is dealing with addiction. In the new content released, long time characters like Elmo and Abby Cadabby learn what Karli is experiencing and help support her. Resources released through the Sesame Street in Communities program, including videos, articles, and activities, broadcast the words children need to hear most: “You are not alone. You will be taken care of. Addiction is a sickness and, as with any sickness, people need help to get better.” And most importantly: “It’s not your fault.”

Ten-year-old Salia Woodbury, whose parents are in recovery, poses with “Sesame Street” character Karli. The show recently explained that the puppet is in foster care because her mother is battling addiction. (Flynn Larsen/Sesame Workshop/AP)

In a press release this month Sesame Workshop, shared the motivation behind their efforts saying, “In the United States, there are 5.7 million children under age 11, or one in eight children, living in households with a parent who has a substance abuse disorder—a number that doesn’t include the countless children not living with a parent due to separation or divorce, incarceration, or death as a result of their addiction. One in three of these children will enter foster care due to parental addiction, a number that has grown by more than 50% in the past decade. The trauma of parental addiction can have lasting impacts on a child’s health and wellbeing, but children can be incredibly resilient; the effects of traumatic experiences can be mitigated with the right support from caring adults like the parents, caregivers, and providers this initiative targets.”

The Council on Recovery recognizes that Houston is not immune to these jarring statistics and aims to meet the needs of this special population. The Council has a long history of educating the community about the disease of addiction to break down the stigma and misunderstanding around this complicated family problem.

With the understanding that addiction is a family disease, The Council addresses all those who are touched by addiction, including youth who are at high risk of developing a substance use problem. Children from families of addiction are more likely to use and use problematically at a young age due to both genetic and environmental factors. To address this cycle of addiction, The Council provides services tailored to the developmental needs of youth. In the Kids Camp at The Council program, kids age 7 to 12 participate in three days of games, activities, and group work to gain education, prevention, and support. Kids in the program learn through their experience that addiction is not their fault, they are not alone, their job is to be a kid, and how to take care of themselves. Parents work alongside children to learn age-appropriate language around addiction and how to communicate about hard feelings, problems, and secrets.

As the rate of substance abuse grows in our community, the population of children who are impacted grows alongside it. You know a child who needs us. To interrupt the cycle of addiction and provide hope in the face of addiction, call 713-914-0556 or visit us online at councilonrecovery.org where you can learn more about Kids Camp and other youth services offered at The Council.

How Pornography Affects the Teenage Brain – An Infographic

Pornography addiction is an adolescent high-risk behavior that is escalating across all segments of the teenage population. By viewing sexually pornographic material, adolescents may face potential emotional, psychological, social, and physiological disorders and issues. The Infographic below, designed by helpyourteennow.com, illustrates the effects that pornography can have on developing adolescent brains. It can help you understand the problem and start important dialogue with your teen about viewing sexually explicit material.

Mindful Choices is the Center for Recovering Families’ adolescent high-risk behavior course that covers pornography addiction and 14 other risky behaviors. For teenagers and their parents, the course addresses these problems in the early, treatable stages. For more information, call 713-914-0556email CRF@councilonrecovery.orgor contact us online.