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Tim Wilens, MD, chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at MGHfC, shares the signs and risk factors for a substance use disorder in children and teens. He also shares how you can help your child if they are struggling with drug or alcohol use.
A substance use disorder (SUD) is a pattern of using drugs, alcohol or other substances that affects a person’s daily life and activities. SUD used to be called substance abuse, drug abuse, drug dependence or alcohol dependence. At MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC), we now call it SUD because it is less judgmental or negative. It also helps people understand that SUD is a disorder, not a character or moral problem.
SUD is a brain-based disorder. This means there are differences in the brains of people who do and do not have an SUD. We think some of the brain differences can either lead to an SUD or might a result of SUD.
Substance use becomes a problem when drugs or alcohol start to control your child instead of your child controlling the drugs or alcohol.
Start talking to your child about drugs and alcohol when they are in 5th or 6th grade. Many families worry that this is too early, but this is not true. Almost half of SUDs start before age 18. Many teens first try drugs or alcohol around age 12.
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