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The Relationship Between Substance Abuse and Adolescence

5/30/2012 8:00:00 AM
Written By:
Lee Phillips, MSW, LCSW, CSAC

Among the physical and mental health risks with today's adolescents are violence, bullying, poor nutrition, obesity, eating disorders, depression, suicide, and substance use. Adolescence is the primary risk period of initiating the use of other substances and research shows that experimental use of some licit and illicit substances maybe considered a normative behavior among U.S. teenagers. According to a study conducted by the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University in 2011, substance use by teens is the most significant public health problem in the United States. 

In addition to the significant increase of risks for addiction, substance use during adolescence has numerous negative consequences, which include:

  • Fatal and nonfatal injuries due to motor vehicle accidents
  • Unintended overdose
  • Sexually risky practices
  • Unwanted pregnancies
  • Increased risk for medical and mental illnesses  

Early identification and effective intervention for adolescents with substance use problems can prevent the disease's progression from abuse to addiction. For intervention to be effective, it is crucial for adolescents to distinguish between substance abuse and substance dependence. This distinction, along with positive youth development, education on the disease concept of addiction and the recovery process provides an opportunity for more individualized and effective treatment.

 Prevention: The Five C's of Positive Youth Development

  • Competence- Perception that one has abilities and skills. Provide teens training practice in specific skills, either academic or hands-on.
  • Confidence- Internal sense of self efficacy and positive self-worth. Provide opportunities for young people to experience success when trying something new.
  • Character- A sense of right and wrong (morality), integrity, and respect for standards of corrective behavior. Provide opportunities to practice increasing self-control and development of spirituality.
  • Connection- Positive bonds with people and institutions. Build relationships between youth and peers, teachers and parents.
  • Caring- A sense of sympathy and empathy for others. Care for young people.

Chemically dependent adolescents have a tendency to relapse because of problems they experience at home, school, and with their friends. These problems activate urges and cravings to use alcohol and drugs. What is needed is brief, yet effective sequence of steps that adolescents can use to identify and manage those high-risk situations. While engaging in positive youth development, the adolescent learns to identify the irrational thoughts, unmanageable feelings, self-destructive urges, and self-defeating behavior that leads to alcohol and drug use.

Lee Phillips is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor in the state of Virginia. Lee is employed full -time as a Licensed Therapist with Child & Adolescent Services at Colonial Behavioral Health. Lee is employed part- time in private practice in Williamsburg, VA. Lee has over 7 years of experience in treating mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders using a strengths based and cognitive behavioral approach.

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