Adolescent Substance Abuse

adolescent substance abuse

In a study conducted by a renowned treatment center, more than half of all teens admitted to experimenting with drugs before leaving high school, and half admitted to using alcohol by eighth grade.

Minnesota-based Hazelden uncovered these alarming statistics while completing “Four Generations Overcoming Addiction,” an in-depth look at generational attitudes toward teen substance use, abuse, and addiction.

Nearly half of parents admit today to using alcohol or drugs to get drunk or high when they were teenagers. And nearly two-thirds of today’s teens (63%) said that hearing their parents’ stories about past drug use would make them more responsible about their own use of alcohol and other drugs.

In other words, open communication about their parents’ past use of alcohol and drugs wouldn’t lead adolescents into substance abuse. In fact, half of the teens said it would make them less likely to use drugs if their parents told them about their own drug use when they were younger.

Hazelden’s research on adolescent substance abuse and treatment has important implications for today’s youth. The magnitude of teen substance use and its potential for turning into abuse, chemical dependency, and addiction, has serious consequences.

Effects of Substance Abuse

Alcohol-related automobile accidents are the leading cause of death and disability among U.S. teens, and substance abuse is also associated with the other leading causes of adolescent deaths: 70.8% of all deaths among youth and young adults aged 10-24 result from only four causes: motor vehicle crashes (32.3%), homicides (15.1%), and suicides (11.7%).

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), the statistics on substance use and abuse are sobering, and parents must communicate with their children about the dangers of substance abuse, helping them develop strategies to cope with peer pressure.

Additional alarming substance abuse facts from the SAMHSA and NSDUH:

  • Among youths who were heavy drinkers in 2000, 65.5% were also current illicit drug users. Among nondrinkers, only 4.2% were current illicit drug users. Similarly, among youths who smoked cigarettes, the rate of past month illicit drug use was 42.7%, compared with 4.6% for nonsmokers.
  • Among youth aged 12 to 17 in 2000, 9.7% had used an illicit drug within the 30 days prior to interview.
  • Approximately 2.1 million youths aged 12 to 17 had used inhalants at some time in their lives as of 2000. This constituted 8.9% of youths.
  • Among youths who were heavy drinkers in 2000, 65.5% were also current illicit drug users. Among nondrinkers, only 4.2% were current illicit drug users. Similarly, among youths who smoked cigarettes, the rate of past month illicit drug use was 42.7%, compared with 4.6% for nonsmokers.
  • Young adults aged 18 to 22 enrolled full-time in college were more likely than their peers not enrolled full-time to report any use, binge use, or heavy use of alcohol in 2000. Past month alcohol use was reported by 62% of full-time college students compared to 50.8% of their counterparts who were not currently enrolled full-time.

12 Year Olds More Likely to Use Inhalants Than Cigarettes or Marijuana

To get high, 6.9% of 12-year-olds inhale toxic chemicals, such as spray paints, glue and gasoline. This rate is higher than usage rates among this age group for cigarettes, marijuana, hallucinogens, cocaine, and prescription drugs, according to 2006 to 2008 data from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUHs). The only substance reporting a higher rate at 9.8% was alcohol.

For teens who abuse alcohol and other drugs, adverse consequences become a daily part of their lives. Besides the high rate of deadly automobile accidents, teens with substance use disorders a likely to become involved with crime, delinquency and truancy. They also have a greater probability of engaging in unprotected sexual activity, experiencing problems at school, and report struggling with depression, anxiety, and a range of other emotional disorders. (see Adolescence Developmental Psychology).

Warning Signs

The Colorado State University Extension website Adolescent Alcohol and Drug Abuse lists the following warning signs for parents concerned about adolescent alcohol or drug use:

  • other family members who abuse substances;
  • missing classes, truancy or a sudden drop in grades;
  • change to a different peer group;
  • quitting extracurricular activities that were important to the adolescent;
  • legal difficulties;
  • possession of drug-related paraphernalia;
  • possession of fake identification;
  • unknown source of income;
  • physical changes such as memory lapses, slurred speech, loss of motor coordination, bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils or rapid weight loss;
  • excessive use of eye drops; or
  • “hanging out” in strange places such as garages, storage sheds and alleys.

Admitting substance abuse is not easy, but admitting to addiction is even harder, and the road to recovery difficult and complex. Yet, a range of options exist for those seeking treatment for teen substance use disorders, including both short-term and long-term treatment facilities and wilderness programs for troubled teens.

If you are interested in working in the field of adolescent substance abuse and addiction counseling, treatment facilities and other organizations require a master’s degree and certification. Request information from schools offering degrees in psychology to get started on this meaningful and rewarding career.

Long-term Residential Treatment Centers

Parents of adolescents who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, who have unsuccessfully tried treatment through community outpatient clinics or facilities, or who simply refuse help, disobey rules, and are constantly truant from school or in trouble with the law, often turn to long-term residential treatment centers for more long-lasting solutions.

Relapse rates for addicts are high, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The organization places the relapse rate between 40% to 60% of those who have received drug treatment – but studies show that long-term drug rehabilitation reduces that rate significantly.

A 2008 Los Angeles Times article by Shari Roan discussed a UCLA study focusing on 1,167 adolescents, a study comparing substance abuse treatment on short-term and long-term residential treatment programs. The study found that those in treatment for 90 days or more had significantly lower relapse rates than those in programs less than 21 days. This study confirmed others done on all age groups, proving that the longer the treatment – at least 90 days – the better the chance of abstinence for a longer period of time.

Substance abuse experts point to the comprehensive nature of long-term treatment as one reason for its effectiveness. They point to the healing, supportive environment of long-term treatment centers, and the intensive individual and group therapy sessions as contributing to the effective long-term residential treatment.

Experts also say the longer adolescents separate from environments where they once abused drugs, and live within a sober environment, finding support and learning from others struggling with addictions, the better chance of recovery.

Long-term facilities teach and support the following:

  • Coping skills that involve being able to refuse drugs once back at school around drug-using peers
  • Interventions that teach adolescents how to cope with stress
  • Effective communication skills and techniques
  • Family counseling
  • How to deal with cravings and triggers that the teen will confront for the rest of his or her life
  • How to deal with withdrawal symptoms
  • How to enjoy life sober and free from drugs
  • How to access community support groups

Wilderness Programs for Troubled Teens

Wilderness programs exist for struggling teens, teens coping with a range of disorders including substance abuse, addiction, and chemical dependency.

These unique programs are not simply summer camps, but run year round, and many include academics as wells as therapeutic modalities – within the context of a wilderness experience. Taking kids away from the cultural influences that often support their substance disorders, influences such as television, video games, peers who also abuse substances, and family members who often unknowingly enable behaviors, students learn how to rely on themselves to solve problems and cope. They also re-learn how to form social bonds and get along with the other participants.

They camp, gather their own food and water, build fires without matches, and build positive relationships without the presence of drugs or alcohol. They build self-esteem by learning how to problem-solve, build self-confidence, and regain self-respect through achieving – and earning – greater levels of responsibility. What they solve in the wilderness has metaphorical counterparts to problems they must solve in their everyday lives.

Trained and certified substance abuse counselors and other professionals are there working one-on-one with the students, conducting group counseling sessions, and ensuring the safety and appropriateness of all tasks and assignments.

Established in the 1940s, these programs evolve each year, staying in touch with the issues and problems facing each new generation, and hiring professionals dedicated to solving the complex issues surrounding substance abuse and behavioral disorders.

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