Kenneth B. Hilliard
Adolescent Substance Abuse
When there is an increase in adolescent substance abuse there is also an increase in drug related tragedies. Shootings (in school and the community), gang fighting, and overdoses occur. Alcohol and drugs are frequently cited as the contributing factors to the cause of many accidents, homicides, suicides, and other medical problems.
Substance use is at an all time high and it will very likely continue to have a great impact on adolescent health. The statistics are startling: in 1989, over 50% of high school seniors surveyed said that they had tried at least one illicit drug. Interestingly, current use declined during this same period. While there have been encouraging declines, adolescents continue to be significantly involved in illicit drug use. Unfortunately, this decline does not effect alcohol or cigarette use. Use of alcohol and cigarettes is still increasing. Much of the use takes place at parties or on weekends.
In 1989, 66% of high school seniors surveyed said that they had tried cigarettes. Many adolescents admitted having their first drink and/or smoke by age thirteen. Adolescent alcohol and drug use is directly related to a lot of other adolescent problems.
Auto injuries, often after drinking, are a leading cause of death among adolescents. Adolescents who are using one or more substances at an early age usually get involved in sexual activity, too. This is usually because when one breaks one rule it is easier to break another and thus the cycle begins. Unfortunately, they are also less likely to use condoms during sex because of memory lapses.
Adolescents have difficulty understanding their drinking problems. In a way this is similar to adults. Adolescent girls are more likely to be anxious, depressed, vulnerable, and submissive while boys are more outgoing, social, and relatively free of anxiety. Adolescents drink to change their present state of mind. They come to expect something from drinking. Male dominated versus environment dominated drinking problems appear to be more prevalent.
Problem drug use is more a symptom than a cause. Drug use is frequently associated with problem behavior. As with substance abuse it is related to the environment as well as the influence of peers and adults.
Substance abusers seem to be comfortable in groups of their peers which usually conflict with families or other (school) authorities. Their friends are users and they tolerate the use of drugs. Families and conventional authorities do have an influence on adolescents and their tendencies to drink at least at the early stages. But once drug use has begun, peer influence takes over. Parental influence is exerted by establishing norms while peer influence is more a function of modeling drug-use behavior.
Cultural values also affect problem behavior. Family instability has a direct correlation on substance abuse. A disruptive family system pushes an adolescent into these tendencies.
A developmental sequence that adolescents travel from legal to illegal drugs has been proposed.
no use of drugs
; use of beer or wine
use of cigarettes and hard liquor
marijuana use (this begins the use of illegal drugs)
; other illicit drugs
The adolescent version is somewhat different than the adult version. The adults seem to view the road to substance abuse as a four step process ending in death. The adolescents view this same process as a five stage process that begins with the use of beer and wine. It is important to note that there are on the market presently wine coolers and brands of beer that have a very high concentration of alcohol which can induce intoxication rapidly. In some cases, even death has occurred when large quantities were mixed, or when the beverages were combined with other substances (such as pills or drugs). It is clear that no matter which version is taken the end result of being addicted to drugs is not the outcome that anyone would desire for their own personal friends or relatives.