Drugs and Teen Substance Abuse

An Overview of the Problem of Teen Substance Abuse

teen substance abuse

According to the most recent report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a young person’s average day often includes drinking, smoking, or using illicit drugs.

In 2011 there were 25.1 million adolescents, aged 12 to 17, in the United States. On an average day during that year, adolescents used the following substances::

  • 881,684 smoked cigarettes
  • 646,702 used marijuana
  • 457,672 drank alcohol
  • 38,540 used inhalants
  • 21,775 used hallucinogens
  • 6,747 used cocaine
  • 5,602 used heroin

Also, on an average day, adolescents used the following substances for the first time:

  • 7,639 drank alcohol
  • 4,594 used an illicit drug
  • 4,000 used marijuana
  • 3,701 smoked cigarettes
  • 2,151 used prescription pain relievers nonmedically
  • 1,460 used hallucinogens
  • 1,355 used inhalants
  • 550 used licit or illicit stimulants nonmedically
  • 482 used cocaine
  • 168 used methamphetamine
  • 99 used heroin

On a typical day in 2011, there were 777 drug-related hospital emergency department visits for adolescents, of which 496 involved the use of illegal drugs or the misuse or abuse of prescription drugs (e.g., Adderall, Xanax, Oxycontin).

Adolescence is a time for trying new things. Teens use drugs for many reasons, including curiosity, because it feels good, to reduce stress, to feel grown-up, and to be accepted by peers.

Teens may be involved with legal or illegal drugs in various ways. Experimentation with drugs during adolescence is common. Unfortunately, teens often don’t see the link between their actions today and the consequences tomorrow. They also have a tendency to feel invincible and immune to the problems that others experience.

Using alcohol at a young age increases the risk of using other drugs later. Some teens will experiment and stop, or continue to use occasionally, without significant problems. Others will develop a dependency or addiction, often using more dangerous drugs and causing significant harm to themselves and possibly others. This is when drug treatment and therapeutic programs are essential to recovery.

According to a study by King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry, even children who had shown no signs of behavior problems while they were young were more likely to go on to become addicted to alcohol or drugs, contract sexually transmitted diseases, drop out of school and have a criminal record, if they took drugs or drank on ‘multiple occasions’ in their early teens.

Other factors that put teens at risk for developing serious alcohol and drug problems include those with a family history of substance abuse, who have suffered abuse or other trauma, who are depressed, and who feel like they don’t fit in.

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