Substance abuse is starting to become a major problem in the world now (Sharma, 2015). Substance abuse disorder or SUD can happen to anyone at any time, regardless of their age, gender, culture, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status (Sussman, 2011). Across the human lifespan, the adolescence stage is considered as the most susceptible time in developing a problem with drugs and alcohol (Sussman, 2011). The reason being is that the adolescence stage is the time where developmental changes occur; puberty is starting, emotions are running, and the hormones are racing (Berk, 2018; Sharma, 2015). There will be several research points that will be discussed in this paper. They are the reasons of why an adolescent start using drugs and/or alcohol, the risk factors, the adolescent’s self-identity, and proper interventions for adolescent substance abuse.
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When one thinks of a reason of why an adolescent would want to experiment with drugs and/or alcohol, they would think the adolescent would just want to fit in with their peers which can be considered as the number one reason (Sussman, 2011). Along with peer influences, some other reasons of why adolescents would abuse drugs and/or alcohol would be family history, stress, and obtaining a good feeling from it (Sussman, 2011).
Adolescents that are using drugs or drinking alcohol may have started it after witnessing their own family members, such as parents, using it (Sharma, 2015). This would be called “parenting monitoring” (Sharma, 2015, pg. 4). By witnessing the parents, they would think that it is an okay behavior to do for themselves (Sussman, 2011). Learning behaviors through observation is related to the social learning theory and one can associate this theory with this reason of an adolescent’s using drugs or alcohol (Berk, 2018).
Adolescents have the strong desire to fit in with their peers. That is why the number one reason can be considered as peer influences (Sharma, 2015). Adolescents would feel like if they did the drugs or alcohol, they would easily fit in with the group and feel accepted by the other peers (Sharma, 2015). From this, one can understand that adolescents experimenting with alcohol or drugs just want to be feel accepted by others and believe that if the other friends are doing it, why should not they.
The other two reasons, stress and obtaining a good feeling, are related in a way. During the adolescence stage, there might be situations of stress. With the stress, they can develop mental health issues. To get away from the stressful situations, they would engage with alcohol and drugs. From this, they would obtain a good feeling or a sense of pleasure from it (Gopiram & Kishore, 2015). The substances would help alleviate the stress but what they do not know is that once they starting experimenting with the substances, they run the risk of becoming addicted to it (Gopiram & Kishore, 2015). During the adolescence stage, the minds are not quite matured yet to understand that repeated drug and alcohol use can cause damage to the brain and give the body more reason to crave for it (Berk, 2018; Gopiram & Kishore, 2015).
To help with prevention of substance abuse in adolescents, one must identify the risk factors associated with it. The most common risk factors are the easy exposure to the drugs, poor parental relationship and supervision, academics, socioeconomic status, and once again peer influences (Chakravarthy, Shah, Lotfipour, 2013). Adolescents that are among the lower socioeconomic status versus higher socioeconomic status are more susceptible to abusing drugs since these individuals would have an easier access to the drugs (Chakravarthy et al., 2013).
In terms of poor parental relationship and supervision, an adolescent with a strong and positive relationship with their parents tend to have a much lower chance of using drugs or alcohol (Chakravarthy et al., 2013). Whereas negativity with the parents makes the adolescent feel unwanted which steers them to drugs (Chakravarthy et al., 2013). Parents that are not available for their children or do not have an open communication policy have the higher chance of using drugs or alcohol (Chakravarthy et al., 2013). There might be other family related issues that would steer the adolescent to drugs such as a death of a close family member or a friend, where it affects negatively and emotionally (Chakravarthy et al., 2013).
With academics, the risk factors would include academic failure and a lack of commitment to school life itself. When the adolescent starts to feel hopeless in the school environment, they would want to turn to drugs/alcohol to make themselves feel better and forget everything else (Chakravarthy et al., 2013). Also within the school environment, they would start to see other peers experimenting with these substances and they would just want to feel accepted by them so they start using them (Chakravarthy et al., 2013). Adolescents have that mindset that they are invincible and can do anything that they want without thinking of the consequences (Berk, 2018). Negative peer influences cause negative actions which result in negative consequences. That is why it is always good, for any individual, to have positive people around them always. Positivity results in a positive and healthy mind.
It was Erik Erikson that recognized identity as a crucial achievement and a major step for the adolescent in becoming a productive adult (Berk, 2018). In determining one’s identity, it means “defining who you are, what you value, and the directions you choose to purpose your life” (Berk, 2018, pg. 402). In terms of adolescent substance abuse, the adolescent’s self-identify can be affected by Erikson’s theory of Identity vs Role Confusion.
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As per to Erikson, the main developmental task for an adolescent is to solve their identity vs role confusion crisis and develop their own identity (Ragelienė, 2016). Identity is knowing who they are and role confusion is not knowing for sure who they are and what they do believe (Berk, 2018). Erikson also defines identity crisis/psychosocial crisis where it is a temporary period of distress where they try out with alternatives before setting on the values and goals that they want in life (Berk, 2018). When an adolescent is trying out drugs/alcohol and going down the wrong road, that is their inner self telling themselves what to do which is considered the internal forces or the first part of the psychosocial crisis (Berk, 2018; Ragelienė, 2016). On the other hand, when the adolescent’s parents and other friends are trying to make them stop using the substances and make a positive change in their life, that is considered as the external forces or the second part of the psychosocial crisis (Berk, 2018; Ragelienė, 2016).
One can understand that both forces, internal and external, are clashing together and the adolescent is very much confused about what to do. Moreover, they are confused with which identity that they should consider more and choose. Whichever force that they choose to follow upon determines what type of person that they will be during their adulthood. If the adolescent chooses to continue with the drugs or alcohol, the negative consequences would follow them into adulthood.
Early detection of substance abuse is very important to save the adolescent. The key to the prevention of adolescent substance abuse would be education, which can be considered as an important intervention for the adolescent substance abuse (Thornton, 2015). Schools nowadays have implemented substance abuse prevention programs that educate adolescents about drugs and alcohol and the negative aspects about it (Thornton, 2015). With early education about these substances, it can hopefully give the adolescent an insight about the wrong choice with experimenting drugs and/or alcohol and draw them away from that direction.
Another intervention would be other individuals recognizing the risk factors early of adolescent substance abuse and doing something about it at that moment. Whether a parent, sister, brother, friend, teacher or whoever, if they see an adolescent that is suffering from drugs or alcohol, they should approach them and help them overcome it. They should make the adolescent realize that they are not alone and that there is help available. Being there for the adolescent is an important step. This also ties in with the education of substance abuse because once another individual educates the adolescent the negative aspects, hopefully, that it is the moment where they realize that they should turn their life around for the better. Future relapses of abusing drugs and alcohol should be avoided at all costs. Improving the negatives aspects in the adolescent’s life should be done as well.
Regardless of age, ethnicity, or culture, substance abuse can happen to anyone at any time. The prime time during a human lifespan for first starting with drugs and/or alcohol would be the adolescence stage (Sussman, 2011). The number one reason of why they would start drugs or alcohol would be peer influences. During the adolescence stage, adolescents just want to fit in with the other peers and they just believe that they are just invincible (Sussman, 2011). They do not know about the negative aspects about these substances unless they are proper educated about it. Their minds are not fully developed where they understand that repeated use can lead to drug addiction or alcoholism (Berk, 2018). The longer the adolescent abusing drugs or alcohol, the harder it can be to overcome it. An overall thought that can be taken from this research is that positive influences can help an individual develop a positive mind.
- Berk, L.E. (2018). Development through the lifespan (7th ed.). Boston: MA, Pearson.
- Chakravarthy, B., Shah, S., & Lotfipour, S. (2013). Adolescent drug abuse – awareness & prevention. The Indian Journal of Medical Research, 1021-1023.
- Gopiram, K., & Kishore, T. M., (2014). Psychosocial attributes of substance abuse among adolescents and young adults: A comparative study of users and non-users. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 36(1), 58-61.
- Ragelienė, T. (2016). Links of adolescents identity development and relationship with peers: A systematic literature review. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 25(2), 97-105.
- Sharma, M. (2015). Substance abuse in adolescents: Implications for research and practice. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 59(1), 3-6.
- Thornton, S. (2015). Prevention and early detection of substance abuse is key. British Journal of School Nursing, 10(6), 300-302.
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