Teen Addiction: How Time Spent in Nature Can Help

Nature's healing powers and ability to help teens disconnect from the stresses of day-to-day life have properties that help curb drug addiction. 

Teenage addiction is a serious problem, with alcohol being the most used drug for adolescents across 8th to 12th grade. Nothing is more painful and alarming for parents than to see their teenager succumb to addiction and its destructive effects. 

But, we've found that nature has healing powers.

Read on, and learn how spending time in nature is especially beneficial for teens trying to overcome addiction.

Nature Keeps Impulsivity In Check While Boosting Self-Control

Why do teens get hooked on drugs and alcohol?

There is more than one answer, but instant gratification is one of the top reasons for addiction in teenagers. Basically, the initial effects feel really good. The high hits in almost in an instant.

For troubled teens, using drugs and alcohol provides a quick escape from anxiety, depression, and dissatisfaction.

Got low grades in school and failed to meet expectations? Had a heated argument with a close friend? Whatever the reason for frustration, drugs and alcohol can provide a temporary, fake shortcut to happiness.

Stronger resistance over the urge for instant gratification is needed if a teen is going to succeed in combating addiction. And nature can lend that much-needed strength.

Research from the University of Montana suggests that spending time in nature - like staying in a ranch, or camping in the mountains - can curb impulsivity.

Impulsivity, in this case, is the tendency to choose smaller and instant rewards over bigger gains in the long term. It's linked to compulsive, often harmful behaviors like substance abuse, excessive drinking, and overeating.

The 45 undergraduate students in the study were shown images of either natural or urban surroundings. The participants then had to do a task that measures impulsivity.

The result: students who viewed images of nature showed greater self-control. They are more likely to resist instant gratification in exchange for better payoffs in the long run.

Nature Provides An Exercise-Friendly Environment

Exercise isn't everyone's favorite thing to do. But breaking a sweat can be integral in a teen's quest to recover and stay sober.

For starters, physical activities like running and swimming encourage the brain to produce endorphins and promotes well-being and feelings of euphoria, making it easier for a recovering teen to cope with everyday life.

Working out also aids addiction recovery in ways beyond the chemical changes in the brain: it restores normal sleep cycle, helps manage anger and frustration, builds up self-confidence, and is an infinitely better way to pass the time than smoking or binge drinking.

And, one can hardly find a better environment for a sweat session than in the great outdoors. After all, fitness and fresh air go together!

Sure, one can work out in a gym conveniently fitted with all sorts of exercise equipment. And it's bound to be beneficial for addiction recovery.

But a growing body of evidence suggests that exercising in nature (or "green exercise" for short) is a way better alternative.

A study at the University of Exeter, which gathered data from 11 trials and involved 833 participants, found that green exercise led to greater positive energy and revitalization than working out indoors

Nature Reduces The Risk Of Depression

Depression is a difficult condition that eats away at the patient's life on numerous levels: sleeplessness, unwanted weight loss or gain, physical exhaustion, lack of enthusiasm, etc.

And worse, people who are diagnosed with major depression are three to four times more likely to fall prey to alcohol and drug dependence.

Is your teenage child feeling down?

A Stanford-led study recommends taking your teenager for a hike.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, saw two groups take a 90-minute walk: one in a grassland with trees and shrubs, and the other in a heavily trafficked four-lane highway.

The group who hiked across a natural setting showed lower activity in the brain's region that is strongly linked to depression than the group who walked in a busy, urban setting.

Nature Rests The Mind And Body

Have you ever wondered why people who have given up alcohol and substance abuse for years suddenly relapse into their destructive habits?

The reason: chronic stress.

Addiction medicine specialists and experts have suggested that stress is the leading cause of relapse to drug abuse including smoking - and studies back up this claim.

A 2.5-year follow-up study that involved 268 opiate addicts found that stress caused by life-crises increased the risk for continued drug abuse while reducing the likelihood of recovering patients staying drug-free. Moreover, cognitive and decision-making skills also take a hit when one is under extreme stress, resulting in increased vulnerability to drug addiction.

Fortunately, nature provides relief for the turbulent mind and tired body.

"Our brains aren’t tireless three-pound machines; they’re easily fatigued," says cognitive psychologist David Strayer, "When we slow down, stop the busywork, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too."

In an outdoor experiment in Utah's wild canyons, Strayer found through EEG that the brain of a person who spent three-days of wilderness backpacking shows a dialed down and rested prefrontal cortex, the brain's command center, and most overused 'muscle.'

Teens stress out due to a number of triggers and circumstances: schoolwork and final exams, expectations from parents, a busy social life, endless list of deadlines, and more.

But unlike the demanding everyday life a teen has to endure, nature - forests, streams, mountains, etc. - gives one the opportunity to relax and replenish their mental resources. 

And with it, help teens on their way to recovery while reducing the risk of relapsing.

Let Nature Help You

The great outdoors may not be the first solution to come to mind when helping a troubled teen. Different clinical therapies and addiction medications that reduce cravings and eliminate withdrawal symptoms are more popular without a doubt.

However, more and more studies are showing that spending time in nature is an effective and organic compliment for treating addiction in teens.

And in this brief write-up, we've looked at four science-backed reasons behind it: nature reduces compulsive behavior, helps teens exercise, reduces the risk of depression, and rests the mind and body.

Would you let nature help your teen?