Adolescent Substance Abuse: Society’s Rising Concern


SC News Editor

Substance use and abuse continue to be significant problems for individuals in the United States. Substance abuse is defined as, “the use of drugs despite adverse consequences.” Substance abuse can also be used to describe a situation in which drugs or alcohol is inappropriately used, which is an act that may stem from poor impulse control.

When determining if adolescent substance abuse is a social problem, one must consider what defines a social problem. A social problem is often characterized as an issue that has negative effects on an individual’s state of being that a society feels should be fixed. Social problems are primarily dependent on the values and beliefs of the society at the time the issue comes about, and they are somewhat subjective.

Many individuals simply classify issues that affect them directly as a social problem. An aspect of society must contain a number of qualities that negatively affects a society to be considered a social problem.

Adolescent substance abuse, which remains extremely prevalent in the United States, can cause a number of problems for individuals. Although reactions largely depend on the type of drug used, substance abuse can be associated with troubled interpersonal relationships, unprotected sex, increased vehicle accidents, increased hostility, physical dependence, and increased risk of suicide.

Being a teenager is often a confusing and challenging period of time. It is associated with rapid social and physical change, which can make teens vulnerable to a destructive path of drugs, which are substances that have psychological and physical effects. During the age of adolescence, illicit substances play a significant role in the lives of many individuals.

Although most adolescents who experiment with drugs do not progress to full-fledged drug addicts, there is still an adequate amount of risk associated with drug use. Most teens tend to view drug use as a way to have fun in a casual setting, with a perception of low levels of harm.

However, there are numerous negative aspects of substance abuse.  A recent study showed that substance abuse in adolescence greatly impacts the prevalence of substance abuse in adulthood.

Once adolescents begin using drugs, they are often unmotivated to stop, because they view drug use as a pleasurable way to fit in. Statistics show that drug abuse is a growing issue among adolescents, and although some individuals are able to use drugs recreationally without ever having problems with addiction, many others face the risks associated with continued drug use.

In a national survey distributed to several high school seniors, 63.2% reported have been drunk, and 41.7% reported having used marijuana.

To determine whether or not adolescent substance abuse is a problem, we must use social imagination, which involves the ability to look at an individual as the only cause for success or failure and look at how one’s environment might play a part. This way, we can research a number of contributing variables including family, peer group, gender, and socioeconomic status.

Recent research has begun to express the importance of the family system in adolescent substance abuse. The quality of family relationships has shown to be greatly influential in terms of adolescent substance use, suggesting that good family relationships with adequate amounts of sharing, rule flexibility, and overall satisfaction of family members contributes to a reduction in risk of adolescent substance abuse. Dysfunctional families, however, might actually increase risk of adolescent substance abuse.

Research suggests that adolescents from single-parent families are at an increased risk of delinquent behaviors, including the consumption of alcohol and drugs, due to resource deprivation. This is most evident among adolescents in grades 8-12, who are at a greater risk in single-parent households for the use of inhalants, amphetamines, and marijuana.

Marijuana usage of boys in single-parent families where the father was present exceeded that of boys living in households with bother parents.

Additionally, daughters living with single fathers showed more marijuana usage than girls living in single-mother families or in dual-parent households, suggesting that children living with a single parent of the same sex experience a reduction in the risk of substance abuse.

The level of involvement provided by the parent can decrease the risk of substance abuse among adolescents living in single-parent households. One caring adult in the life of a child can provide stress relief and better overall adjustment, which can lead to a decreased risk of substance abuse.

In a study by Kimber L. Bogard, closeness with a single parent, regardless of gender, shows a reduction in substance abuse among boys and girls (Bogard, 2005). That closeness will encourage adolescents to consult their parents on troubling issues, which makes them less likely to engage in risky behaviors involving drugs or alcohol.

However, where parental involvement might decrease the risk of substance abuse among adolescents, research indicates that parental over-involvement might create the opposite effect.

Another aspect of family that might have the opposite effect is family history of drug use. Substance abuse in parents has shown to serve as a model for their children, increasing the chance of substance use in adolescence.

Drug use among family members has been shown to be one of the greatest indicators of substance use in early adolescence. Additionally, children who grow up around family members who abuse drugs or alcohol may have a much easier time coming into contact with drugs or alcohol when compared to children who grow up in a household with no substance abuse.

Although family plays a significant role in determining the risk for substance abuse, peer groups have an impact as well.

Although peer groups have proven to be an important aspect of social development, there are also some negative outcomes associated with peer groups. It has been shown that substance use among peers predicted cigarette use, binge drinking, and substance abuse problems by young adults with a correlation with the number of friends who were using drugs.

Social relationships have contributed to adolescent substance use in the way that social activities may increase chances that an individual will be exposed to drugs or alcohol. In result, exposed individuals may have a greater chance of partaking in drugs or alcohol.

Additionally, in a study by Miquel A. Diego, Tiffany M. Field, and Christopher E. Sanders, adolescents who smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol, and smoked marijuana were more likely to report feeling popular amongst their peer groups.

On the other hand, some social relationships may serve as protection against the influence of drugs or alcohol. Some individuals may feel that their peer groups enhance self-esteem and provide a source of social control that lessens the chances of substance abuse problems.

Gender also has a significant impact on the risk of adolescent substance abuse.

A study that examined childhood antecedents of marijuana and cocaine use in adulthood asked for the lifetime assessment of children starting from first grade. The assessments showed that males who were both shy and aggressive in first grade were more likely to abuse drugs as adults.

On the other hand, non-shy females were more likely than shy females to abuse drugs as adults. It was found that shyness in females may produce anxiety towards interpersonal behavior, making shy people reluctant to partake in deviant behavior.

Shyness and aggressiveness in males, on the other hand, may create a lack in social skills that interfere with their interpersonal relationships.

Therefore, the expectations and obligations of these individuals are decreased, which might create difficulties throughout life, leading to adult substance abuse.

A recent study showed that a reduction in drug use is associated with academic motivation among females. For both males and females, having academically oriented peers contributed to a reduction in substance abuse. This suggests that the desire to do well academically has greater importance when compared with the impulse to do drugs or drink alcohol.

Another factor that might contribute to adolescent substance abuse is socioeconomic status.

Regardless of socioeconomic status, most teens experience exposure to substance use as they approach adolescence.

However, a study by Way, Strauber, Makkula, and London performed in 1994 showed that drug use is more prevalent among high-income.

Although substance abuse is common among females of higher economic status, upper-class males report the highest level of substance abuse, which leaves both genders of higher economic status at risk for substance abuse problems.

When paired with family situations, living with a single parent in a place of low income has been associated with adolescent drug use.

Although recent studies have shown that adolescence are potentially at risk for substance abuse, little effort has been made to investigate this aspect of the population to attempt to eliminate some of the risk, which is a factor that greatly contributes to the severity of the problem.


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