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Drug Abuse – A Public Health Menace in Adolescents Between 15-19 Years Research Paper

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Updated: Feb 8th, 2022


This paper aims at analyzing the data on the issue of drug consumption and abuse among adolescents, a menace for public health. The information for the paper was collected from various studies, current event articles, and evidence-based works. In addition, the objectives of the paper are as follows: the first aim is to analyze the collected data and produce a review of the information. The second aim is to evaluate referential opinions, compare and contrast them critically. The next objective is to examine the policy in New Jersey regarding drug abuse in adolescents, and finally, to draw a conclusion summarizing all the information. After evaluating the data, drug abuse in adolescents can be considered a menace for public health.

Keywords: drug consumption, drug abuse, adolescents, public health


Currently, the issue of drug consumption among adolescents has become widely discussed and utterly controversial. Many people hold an opinion that adolescents are in particular danger of using drugs and their consequent adverse effects which is proved with scientific pieces of evidence and various studies. However, some researchers claim that today’s adolescents are remarkably self-conscious, and trends in adolescents’ drug consumption are statistically promising (Levy, Campbell, Shea, & DuPont, 2018). It is possible to note that “past-year use of illicit drugs other than marijuana has held steady at the lowest levels in more than two decades” (Office of Adolescent Health, 2019, para. 6). Nevertheless, the question remains – is there a real public health menace in the drug consumption of adolescents aged 15-19 years old, and what is a general situation around it nowadays? This paper aims at analyzing the data on the issue from various research studies, evaluating referential opinions, and drawing a conclusion with a consequent answer to the question mentioned above.

Affecting Factors

Adolescence is age-specific and can be characterized by exposure towards such a social phenomenon as peer pressure or bullying, which may lead to psychological disorders, such as anxiety and depression. In addition, it is typical for individuals aged 15-19 years old to experience boredom and lack of emotions (Bagley, 2018). These aspects along with other factors mentioned above make adolescents vulnerable and susceptible to drug consumption (Levy et al., 2018). A reason for concern is that, although lately statistics show the lowest percentage of drug-using teenagers, adolescents still use such most common substances as marijuana and alcohol.

Moreover, when adolescents are at the age of 15-19 years, their brain and mind are exposed to drugs; dopamine contained in these drugs causes pleasant feelings to which an adolescent responds quickly. This is the point where the addiction begins as it is common for adolescents to get used to this state of pleasure and consequently want to prolong it. To avoid or treat addiction, it is essential to detect such a state as early as possible and try to intervene (Curtin, Tejada-Vera, & Warmer, 2017; Levy et al., 2018). In most cases, there are other reasons for starting to consume drugs, such as psychological disorders, life ordeals, peer pressure, shame, and failures.

Drug addiction is a disorder resulting from constant usually uncontrolled drug consumption, leading to brain and mental diseases and behavioral changes. Drug abuse is associated with using both legal and illegal substances in quantities that are harmful to a person or other people (Seligman et al., 2017). For instance, drug abuse is observed when a person takes more medicines than were prescribed or consumes illegal drugs for various reasons, such as to ease stress, to relax, and to distract their attention.

NJ Policy on Drug Abuse in Adolescents

Currently, in New Jersey, there is a policy aimed at control of substances consumed by underaged adolescents. According to the law, it is legally prohibited to serve, make available or offer alcoholic beverages to adolescents under 21 years old (New Jersey Revised Statutes, 2013). Also, there are programs targeted at assisting addicted adolescents, such as one developed by the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (GCADA) that was established in accordance with NJSA 26:2BB. The GCADA works to promote public awareness and prevention planning (Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, 2014). According to its report, programs conducted by the organization have led to significant results, such as increased awareness on the issue and successful treatment of addicted adolescents.

Dangerous Results of Drug Abuse

Considerable problems arise when a person starts to misuse or abuse drugs. It leads to significant untoward effects, such as behavioral changes, health problems, brain and mental disorders resulting in worsening of social and interpersonal relationships, personal development, and living conditions to name a few. Consequently, it is impossible to deny that drug abuse can be considered as a public menace, especially in individuals aged 15-19 years old, since adolescents are more susceptible to its side effects (Pagliaro & Pagliaro, 2019). Using drugs by adolescents likely results in physical or mental illnesses later in adult life.

Death is viewed among other significant risks of drug abuse. Thus, drug abuse may also be responsible for drug overdosing, car accidents, and domestic violence among others. According to Curtin et al. (2017), “Drug overdose deaths in the United States are a major public health challenge” (p. 5). Drug-related death is one of the essential reasons to control adolescents’ substance consumption, pay special attention to them, their surroundings and friends, as well as educate them about drugs.

Types of Drug Abuse

Generally, trends of young adolescents’ drug consumption continue to decrease, although some drugs cause particular concerns. It is important to note that the substances that are most often abused are pain medications (including opioids), alcohol, cigarettes (including vaping and e-cigarettes), marijuana, and inhalants (The NIDA Blog Team, 2018). According to statistics, it is possible to assume that 15-19-year-old adolescents are generally aware of the risks of using drugs, such as alcohol, cigarettes, and opioids. However, they are less cautious with vapes, inhalants, and marijuana, which are also risky and can be damaging to their health (Richtel, 2019). Therefore, it is essential to monitor drug awareness among adolescents, to educate them properly about drug consumption, its consequences, and side effects.

Researchers report that “Abuse of alcohol is associated with more harm than all of the other drugs and substances” (Pagliaro & Pagliaro, 2019, p. 32). This issue can be provoked by factors such as culture and traditions. Many gatherings or celebrations usually involve alcohol, and adolescents are especially susceptible to drinking alcohol in such surroundings (Richtel, 2019). Moreover, during these events, other factors can influence adolescents, such as pressure from peers.

In addition, there are many social factors that are crucial when it comes to a choice to consume substances or not. One example of social factors that influence drug use/abuse is the stigma of addiction (Bagley, 2018). In other words, social stigma appears as social disapproval of a person because of stereotypical social characteristics that make this person different from “normal” people. There are many examples of social stigma–commonly, they are related to gender, nationality, culture, race, abilities, and health. The stigma of drug addiction has a particularly adverse influence on a person, since it prevents them from seeking help and slows down the recovery process. Adolescents are exposed to social phenomena such as the stigma and image because socialization is one of the most vital processes in their self-development.

Ambivalence of an addicted person may interfere with recovery, and it is hesitant to engage in recovery due to concerns of shame and fear of being judged by others. According to Bagley (2018), it can also slow down the process, make it less effective and more time-consuming, since a person can start the therapy but avoid coming to the next session. In such cases, it is difficult to reach positive results. The family’s support is of great importance, as it can help to reduce the pressure of social stigma and to sort out ambivalent feelings.

Help and Treatment

Currently, there are many addiction centers that can ease some social issues to help to lessen the pressure. For instance, these organizations can assist an individual with basic needs, such as housing and employment or schooling. The main challenge is compliance of the addicted adolescent to seek help. Psychologically, for an adolescent, it can be an inner fight. Moreover, it is significant to note that most adolescents with already existing life troubles tend to abuse drugs and become addicted. Therefore, they may have serious trust issues or issues around communication, which will also inevitably influence the recovery process (Pagliaro & Pagliaro, 2019). For such an adolescent, the first step is to start with a specialist, to open up and gain trust with the specialist is an utterly energy-consuming and complicated challenge. It is also significant to note that, because of their age, 15-19-year-old individuals are much harder to deal with. Therefore, therapy for these adolescents can be particularly complex and considerably long.

There are many organizations and government programs aimed at helping addicted adolescents to recover. Thus, “Truth Initiative” produces a series of Public Service Announcements/Ad’s (PSA) intended to persuade adolescents to stop consuming substances (Rosenberg, 2020). The anti-smoking campaign yielded impressive results, as there was a remarkable reduction in the percentage of smoking adolescents. The main challenge is to raise the awareness about the hazards of addiction by explaining its mechanism and prevalence to adolescents.


Some adolescents are exposed to various life crises such as rape, domestic violence, and brutality. Many adolescents are more vulnerable to social pressure and psychological issues. Drug abuse can be a result of peer pressure, adverse influence, and mental disorders. It is essential to create a friendly environment and express support as apparently as possible. One of the key factors in a successful recovery process is to support addicted adolescents aged 15-19 years old through the recovery process with support from family. It is important to make them feel accepted and understood as this can help them make the right choice and start the recovery process. Raising public awareness about health and drug abuse through specific advertisements campaigns is an innovative method that is effective in reducing adverse drug effects of drug abuse.


Bagley, S. (2018). [Video file]. Web.

Curtin, S. C., Tejada-Vera, B., & Warmer, M. (2017). Drug overdose deaths among adolescents aged 15-19 in the United States: 1999-2015. NCHS Data Brief, 282, 1-8.

Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. (2014). .Web.

Levy, S., Campbell, M. D., Shea, C. L., & DuPont, R. (2018). . Pediatrics, 142(2), e20173498. Web.

New Jersey Revised Statutes. (2013). Title 2C – . Web.

The NIDA Blog Team. (2018). . Web.

Office of Adolescent Health. Promote mental health and prevent substance use in teens. Web.

Pagliaro, A. M., & Pagliaro, L. A. (2019). Child and adolescent drug and substance abuse: A comprehensive reference guide. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Richtel, M. (2019). Teen marijuana vaping soars, displacing other habits. The New York Times. Web.

Rosenberg, T. (2020). Weaponizing truth against opioids. The New York Times. Web.

Seligman, M. E.P., Romer, D., Gur, R. E., Hendin, H., Walsh, B. T., Evans, D. L., … O’Brien, C. P. (Eds.). (2017). Treating and preventing adolescent mental health disorders: What we know and what we don’t know. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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