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Adolescent Risk: Substance and Addiction Research Paper

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According to Stanis and Andersen (2014), substance use among adolescents occurs when one consumes drugs or alcohol. Substance use may not always cause addiction, but it might cause habituation when used repeatedly. The continued use of drugs and alcohol leads to substance abuse.

The problems associated with this vice affect personal life, education, health, and safety. When adolescents are addicted, they continue using drugs even when they are aware of the consequences. After addiction, it becomes hard for the adolescents to stop taking drugs. Instead, they become tolerant to the drugs.

Since the dependency on drugs is the key indicator for addiction, many adolescents have become addicts due to many factors. This paper will show that during adolescence, the probability of drug usage and dependency is high.

In addition, this life period is crucial as structural and functional developments occur in the body, and thus individuals are highly vulnerable to acquiring a substance use disorder.

Therefore, it is necessary for parents to ensure that they keep close supervision of their children to prevent possible initiation to drugs and alcohol. In addition, early adolescence is the best moment when caregivers and child psychiatrists can initiate drug use and abuse prevention programs.

Factors that lead to substance use and addiction

Many factors lead to substance use and addiction among teens in the United States including sociocultural, psychodynamic, and biological elements. Various sociocultural factors influence drug and alcohol use amongst adolescents. These factors entail societal and cultural issues that influence substance use and addiction.

Stern and Morr (2013) indicate that films that are produced and watched in the United States can affect the adolescents’ perceptions toward substance use and initiation.

Watching films depicting youths smoking and drinking alcohol may create the attitude that drugs are necessary to increase efficacy if the character is presented as a hero.

In addition, drinking and smoking characters in movies are represented as personalities who enjoy the high-class status, and this lifestyle appeases teenagers. The mass media has also provided much information about substance use, thus leaving the adolescent with curiosity and urge to try drugs and alcohol.

Peer pressure is a significant cause of substance use and in the process of conforming, one ends up being addicted. Living among friends who drink alcohol or do drugs increases the probability that a teenager will be compelled to ape the peers.

Unfortunately, in the United States, a large number in the society often views drunkenness as humorous and trendy. Most teens end up enjoying getting high simply because they attract attention due to the silly things they do when inebriated.

Other teens use drugs and alcohol to escape the societal pressures According to Pape (2012), adolescents always like living among friends who appreciate what they do and they are encouraged to continue with their habits when their friends join them.

Psychodynamic factors entail emotional issues, past events, as well as psychological disorders. A teenager, who went through a challenging childhood, may feel inferior and scared in life (Clinton, Clark & Straub, 2010). Consequently, they start drug and alcohol use to deal with their situations.

Psychodynamic factors often occur subconsciously. Teens in this situation do not recognize that they are consuming drugs and alcohol in a bid to erase their past issues. However, teens unknowingly end up developing drug dependency whenever they face situations that remind them of their past.

Continued dependency automatically causes addiction and teens start to feel inadequate when not using drugs or alcohol. Furthermore, mental disorders can play a role in substance use and addiction. Adolescents who suffer from mental disorders find solace in substance use as a way of self-intervention.

They end up being addicted because they feel relieved whenever they use drugs to help them deal with their psychological disorders (Schmidt, Lee & Beecham, 2007).

Biological factors entail heritable genetic risks that may lead to a certain disorder. The presence of a substance use disorder in one or both parents has predominantly been indicated to be a key risk aspect amongst adolescents.

Some people have unique physiology and genetic traits that trigger substance use and find enjoyment, hence it becomes hard to resist drugs and alcohol. Thus, these teens are at a high risk of developing drug dependency due to their genetic vulnerability (Dennis, White & Ives, 2009).

However, this aspect should not be used as an excuse to abuse drugs and alcohol because some intervention measures can be applied to minimize the risks.

Even though substance use at early age is prohibited in the United States, adolescents gravitate towards drug and alcohol use and end up being addicted by an array of drugs and alcohol (Stern & Morr, 2013). Most Americans attach some essence to being left to make own decisions.

The notion of individuality has permeated almost all areas of the Americans’ private lives and parents end up letting children make uninformed decisions in the precept of developing independence.

People believe that the United States provides a legal structure, which limits the government and others from exercising control on one’s private life.

The principle of independence is transcribed in the Constitution and the legal systems have retaliated the need to let the Americans make own decisions regarding issues that influence their private lives.

However, the situation is relatively different for adolescents since they lack the capacity to make some decisions and the society does not allow them to make decisions such as indulging in substance use.

Even though the law on the usage of drugs and alcohol restricts adolescents below the age of 18 years, they indulge in this malpractice regardless of its legal and ethical repercussions.

In addition, even when the law prohibits substance use among teens, it lacks proper procedures towards preventing this malpractice.

Some ethical issues such as informed consent, confidentiality, and children rights pose significant challenges when dealing with this issue (Kong, Singh, Camenga, Cavallo & Krishnan-Sarin, 2013).

Despite the various consequences related to substance use and addiction, drug and alcohol use continues to be a problematic practice to a large number of American teenagers. The ethical decision-making approaches are a stabling block when identifying a swift way to address substance use among teenagers.

For instance, the issue of informed consent serves to meet the moral duty of respect for the addicted adolescents. By issuing the teenagers with the options of choosing to engage in counseling program or not, it gives them the courage to advance with their behaviors.

Despite the teenagers’ functional and cognitive capacity, they should not be allowed to feel protected by the law, since the impulsivity of the substance might compel them to underrate the risks that they engage in (Kuehn, 2007).

In addition, teens develop a misconception that they are doing free to do what they want provided they do not harm others.

Individual Characteristics of adolescent substance abusers

In many cases, individual characteristics of teenagers who use drugs and alcohol at times resemble typical teenager behavior. This aspect makes it hard to determine whether a teen is using drugs or going through the usual adolescence experience. In the US, a high percentage of substance users among the adolescents are boys.

The non-white populations are said to be more affected as compared to their white counterparts. According to Dennis et al. (2009), the African American teens who report to have been using drugs and alcohol also confess to having experienced early negative childhood experiences such as abuse or neglect.

Familial issues relating to living standards are the main reasons why substance use is prevalent among the non-white adolescents. Personal appearance is a key indicator that a teen may have been using drugs. Messy outlook demonstrates a lack of concern for one’s appearance.

After continued use of drugs and alcohol, adolescents find little essence about their hygiene and they do not mind if their current situation affects others. Eyes appear reddish due to alcohol consumption and lips look soot like.

Adolescents who indulge in substance use develop personal habits that include frequent night-outs, increased need for privacy, and avoiding eye contact with parents and teachers.

Adolescents also develop an increased craving for money, and thus they might end up stealing from family and friends because drugs are expensive. Drug usage may also result in a sudden lack of appetite or generate sudden appetite upon use.

Adolescents often engage in fast and multiple intoxications because most drugs are short acting, but with a rampant onset. This scenario is mostly witnessed among teenagers who do not like delayed gratification or have generated the perception that they are efficient when intoxicated (Dunn, 2014).

Among the teens that are attending schools, when they initiate substance abuse, they develop poor school attendance and end up dropping out of school or they are suspended due to undesirable behaviors. Delinquency is another common trait among adolescent substance abusers.

In most cases, teens who use drugs engage in theft and burglary activities to obtain money to buy drugs. In addition, the users become increasingly disruptive, vulgar, and aberrant due to the rapid influence of the drugs.

Mental disorders and emotional problems are common characteristics among teenagers that use drugs and alcohol. Even though mental disorders may not develop during early adolescence, with continued abuse, the user becomes highly susceptible to various mental disorders.

Anxiety, depression, and anger start to impair the individuals’ judgment, hence a significant drop in academic performance (Ruiz, Strain, & Langrod, 2007).

Family problems affecting adolescents

The family, as a socializing institution, is a major protective agent for the adolescents. When the family is dysfunctional, it is potentially a risk factor to the development of adolescents.

Risk factors related to the family can take various forms, which include problems associated with family dynamics and functioning, family characteristics, and environment where families reside (Barnett et al., 2014).

When present, family problems influence certain teenagers more adversely than others to engage in habits that can be detrimental. Risk factors associated with family dynamics and functioning are highly linked to rebellious behavior among teens.

For instance, inappropriate parental practices like lack of close supervision, unnecessary permissiveness, inadequate or exceedingly strict discipline, and poor communication pose huge problems for the adolescents.

This aspect leads to substance use, poor performance in school, and voluntary association in delinquency groups such as teen gangs.

Close supervision is the major variable that predetermines other traits of family functioning. The parents should learn how to identify if their children are using drugs and alcohol. Good communication is necessary to convince the teenager to avoid any form of substance abuse.

Mistreatments during early childhood development and family conflicts cause substantial physical and psychological damage to the adolescents. Witnessing violence in the family creates a lasting risk impression that may lead to aggressiveness and anger among teenagers.

Mistreatment has been linked with several delinquency behaviors such as dropping out of school, teen pregnancy, and substance use. Family criminality and particularly that of the father, is a clear predictor of inappropriate behavior in boys.

Adolescents find it hard to live with this reality, and thus they start using drugs and alcohol to forget about things that negatively affect their wellbeing (Nakhaee & Jadidi, 2009).

In a case where parents use drugs and alcohol, there is a high probability that children will be tempted to initiate and unfortunately they end being addicts.

Problems related to family characteristics include the implications of single parenthood. Single parenting is viewed as a problem because the family structure is highly vulnerable to various factors that lead to youth delinquency.

For instance, single parents are relatively reluctant when it comes to supervising their children and they may lack adequate time to create rapport with the child, lack finances, and poor lifestyles. This situation can lead to a stressful life, thus encouraging teens to gravitate towards substance use.

Similarly, residing within poor neighborhood increases the chances of engaging in drug and alcohol use because most of these illicit drugs are readily available in such localities. Drug dealing supports livelihood for most youths who live in the ghettos.

The social context within poor areas exacerbate ineffective parental activities, thus adolescents living in a poor setting and being brought up in a region where parental closeness is lacking develop the problem of substance use (Ruiz et al., 2007).

School issues that impact youths at risk

According to Stern and Morr (2013), a study conducted in 2009 suggests that 41.8% of high school teenager confessed to taking alcohol within 30 days prior to the survey. The study also indicates that the commonly abused substance is marijuana.

Stern and Morr (2013) show that currently in the US, drug and alcohol abuse is the main cause of death for teens between ages 15-24. Despite having this knowledge at their disposal, teens continue to use drugs and alcohol.

Therefore, why do high school students continue to use drugs and alcohol despite the inevitable dangers? Every aspect of the students’ lives influences their capacity to learn and prevail in school. However, various school-related circumstances place students at a risk of using drugs and alcohol.

School-related factors include inappropriate discipline system, poor or inadequate counseling, poor communication, failure to incorporate student-learning preferences, and mismatch between home and school culture (Clinton, Clark, & Straub, 2010).

These circumstances may lead to dropping out of school and teen pregnancy because in most cases students initiate drugs after they feel defeated by the aforementioned conditions. For a long time, the predictors of dropping out of school seem to be consistent.

Potential dropouts share various aspects such as poor academic performance, they are more likely to be part of the low earning families, and they demonstrate psychological challenges.

If the schools lack an effective discipline system, students will not feel the obligation to stay free from drug use. Instead, they will initiate it because nobody seems to be against it or it is a presumably cool habit.

In addition, if school systems ignore student-learning styles, learners will feel the pressure from the teachers to conform to a system that they rarely understand, and thus end up using drugs to avoid study-related stress.

Other teens believe that alcohol and drugs are best substitutes for educational success or self-actualization. School culture versus home culture is another key determinant of the students’ initiation into substance use.

If the school culture is overly strict as opposed to the home culture, which might be somehow relaxed, the students finds it hard to adjust whenever in school (Nakhaee & Jadidi, 2009).

When the schools fail to initiate proper communication to create room for successful adjustment, students start using drugs and alcohol to boost their low self-esteem.

Therefore, it is essential to involve parents when formulating policies that govern the students’ behavior while in school to ensure that there is no collision of values and principles. Early initiation of drugs and alcohol raises the risk of early onset of sexual activities among school teens.

This aspect results in unwanted teen pregnancies, which compel young girls to drop out of school, in most cases. If schools formulate good policies that consider the students’ needs, then it can prove possible for schools to be free of students who use drugs and alcohol (Stern & Morr, 2013).

Prevention, intervention, and treatment

Considering that substance use is avoidable, it is intriguing that it persists and plays a significant role as a key cause of death among youth every year in the United States. The prevention of the initiation of drugs and alcohol is a key way to avoid drug dependency.

As shown by Stanis and Andersen (2014), the initiation of substance use can be cut by 1.5 million adolescents if effective prevention measures are adopted. The main role of these developmental-based prevention programs should focus at either inhibiting the use or postponing the age of initiation.

This research emphasizes that childhood, psychological deregulations initiated by stress, irritability, and other cognitive dysfunctions may result in substance use among teenagers.

These findings offer significant implications when formulating a model of prevention and intervention to be used during early development and adolescence.

Considering that the United States has staged various campaigns towards eradicating substance use among adolescents and the behavior persists, it has become necessary to start by targeting children who demonstrate symptoms of psychological dysfunction.

The detection and treatment of early indicators of stress and other related substance-initiating factors should be done early enough by the parent, caregiver, or child psychiatrist to limit the chances of the child from indulging in substance use.

In addition, the education programs for both adolescents and their parents should be facilitated to increase awareness about the consequences of substance use and abuse for the adolescent and the entire society (Ruiz et al., 2007).

From a social perspective, engaging in social activities such as sports competitions, religious duties, and volunteer programs reduces the possibilities of a teenage from engaging in drug and alcohol abuse. On the other hand, adolescents who avoid these activities are more likely to indulge in substance use.

However, since adolescents comprise individuals at a high risk of substance use, the appropriate programs should be targeted to initiate the much-needed change.

Indicated prevention approaches target teenagers, who demonstrate signs of behavioral challenges or exposed to substance use disorders due to biological aspects. For instance, in Massachusetts, treatment is done through the Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral, and Treatment model (Stanis & Andersen, 2014).

Treating adolescents suffering from substance use disorders results in a huge toll on the United States’ financial, medical, and labor resources. Adolescent psychiatrists often face cases of substance abuse in the course of duty. The medical assessment may include a laboratory examination of urine or blood screening.

The extent of the teenagers’ substance abuse gives the direction in which the treatment should follow. For example, a teenager who drinks daily will need detoxification whilst undergoing rehabilitation.

This aspect means that if the situation is severe, the treatment should first emphasize on alleviating or substantially minimizing the substance consumption.

If the psychiatrist establishes that the substance use is propelled by other disorders and that dealing with the initial causes may result in the reduction of substance use, the planned treatment model may not consider the substance dependency issue.

As the treatment goes on, the psychiatrist should be ready to deal with the possibility that s/he might have judged the condition incorrectly.


Adolescents remain the most vulnerable group upon which substance use is initiated and addiction thrives with continued use.

Since substance abuse has been shown to be avoidable, it is unthinkable to incur the huge costs to treat the disorders associated with the practice when there is an opportunity to tame the situation before it develops.

Given that the family has been identified as the integral part in the teens’ development, it is necessary to involve parents in the campaign to eradicate substance use among adolescents.

In a bid to prevent harmful student characteristics related to substance use, strict school policies that address basic principles, values, and perceptions may be useful in drug prevention.


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