Doctors’ Notes


Substance Abuse Prevention, Intervention, & Treatment

The consequences of drug abuse are vast and varied and affect people of all ages. Powerful misconceptions about people who were addicted to drugs were thought to be morally flawed and lacking in will power, until science began studying addictive behavior in the 1930s.

Today, groundbreaking discoveries about the brain and understanding drug addiction have changed that myth, enabling us to respond effectively to the problem.

Addiction is a Disease

Drug addiction is defined as a chronic relapsing brain disease. Drug addiction disrupts the normal healthy functioning of the brain. An adolescent brain is still developing, and drug addiction can alter that process.

An estimated 1 out of every 11 people who try marijuana become addicted to it. For those who start in their teens, chances go up to 1 in 6.

Drug and alcohol addiction is a preventable disease. It’s the only disease that has a physiological and psychological component. If left untreated the serious, harmful consequences can last a lifetime.  Although there is no cure for this disease, it can be successfully treated.

Drug Help

Vulnerability to Addiction

Vulnerability to addiction differs from person to person.  No single factor determines whether a person will become addicted to drugs. A person’s susceptibility is affected by genetic makeup, gender, ethnicity, and the social environment in the home, school or neighborhood.

Scientists estimate that genetic factors account for 40-60% of a person’s vulnerability to addiction.  Adolescents and individuals with mental disorders are at greater risk of drug abuse than the general population.

Parents or older family members who abuse drugs or alcohol can increase a child’s risk of developing their own drug problems.

Friends have the greatest influence during adolescence. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable because of the strong influence of peer pressure and the curiosity to “feel good,” “feel better,” or “do better.”  Adolescents are more likely to engage in thrilling and daring behaviors.

Drug addiction does not discriminate and can affect any family, including children from very loving homes. While experimenting with drugs does not automatically lead to drug abuse, early use is a risk factor for developing more serious drug abuse and addiction. Risk of drug abuse also increases during times of transition, such as changing schools, moving, or divorce.

Every parent with children between the ages of 2 and 25 should visit The Parent Toolkit, an excellent prevention resource website.

Warning Signs of Drug Abuse

Often times, there are consistent warning signs that indicate someone is struggling with the use of drugs and/or alcohol. The challenge for parents is to distinguish between normal adolescent behavior and the red flags of substance abuse.

These warnings include, but are not limited to:


  • Personality changes
  • Unpredictable mood swings
  • Quick tempered, changes in frustration level, irritable
  • Paranoid, guarded
  • Less affectionate
  • Lack of motivation
  • Hostility
  • Depression
  • Decline in self esteem
  • Demanding more privacy; locking doors; avoiding eye contact; sneaking around
  • Dishonesty; stealing money, valuables, or prescriptions


  • Not doing chores
  • Not completing homework
  • Slipping grades
  • Coming home late
  • Tardy or absent at school
  • Forgetting family occasions 


  • Dropping one group of friends for another
  • Reluctant to talk about friends
  • Changes in clothing style
  • Less interested in extra curricular activities or appearance


  • Energy level changes
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Change in eating or sleeping habits, nodding off
  • Eyes (bloodshot, dilated, glazed, pinpoint pupils)
  • Weight changes
  • Use of cover-ups (sunglasses, breath mints, incense, room freshener, using eye drops)

If you’re concerned about your son or daughter, here’s an excellent, 30-question “Drug Screening Quiz” for parents that can help you assess where your child might currently stand with potential drug use and abuse.

Youth Treatment Services

Studies show that adolescents who suffer from the disease of addiction to drugs, alcohol, prescription pills or other substances require treatments different from adult needs. 

Because they require more structure and supervision, youth programs at the local Gateway Rehabilitation Center address the needs that are specific to younger patients. Gateway Rehab offers both inpatient and outpatient care with a variety of programs for each. Gateway’s highly trained experts give adolescents, youth, and young adults the tools they need to reclaim health and find recovery. The Gateway Youth Services Center, located in a tranquil setting minutes from the Pittsburgh International Airport, provides gender-specific treatment in individual and small-group settings exclusively for adolescents ages 13-20.

Based on the warning signs listed above, if you think someone you know has a problem with drugs and/or alcohol, you can call to speak with a counselor about the steps you can take to save a life. For more information about youth services, browse the Gateway website or contact them at 1-800-472-1177.

Gateway is just one of many recovery options and facilities to treat addiction in the Pittsburgh area for the addicted loved one and their families. Whatever treatment and recovery options you choose, getting educated is the first important step to recovery for the entire family.

Seeking outside support for family members of an addicted loved one is also crucial. Family members are encouraged to seek help through individual counseling or self-help groups such as Nar-anon or Al-anon.

Nat-Anon & Al-Alon Resources 

While seeking treatment for the addict is paramount to recovery, it’s critical that family members of the addict seek support also. The Nar-Anon (narcotic) or Al-Anon (alcohol) family group is for those family members who know or known a feeling of desperation due to the addiction problem of someone close to them. Groups such as Nar-Anon and Al-Anon exist to offer support, hope, and strength to family members impacted by an addiction. While these groups cannot “fix” an addict and their problems, participation empowers the family members to focus on their own health and well being, so that ultimately they can help their addict during the recovery process.The meetings are usually held at locations such as treatment centers, hospitals, churches, or community centers.

For more information, see these web sites:

Nar-Anon Family Groups

Pennsylvania Al-Anon / Alateen Family Groups

National Institute on Drug Abuse

Valerie Homanics, a Registered Nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, works in our Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh.