Teen substance abuse does not follow a pattern. It does not have a set of rules that determine whether or not a young adult will develop an addiction. So what are the causes and contributing factors of substance abuse in this age group? While not everyone who is exposed to certain factors develops a dependency on drugs and/or alcohol, there has been a correlation between substance abuse and certain environmental, individual, genetic and social factors.
Why Do Teens Start Using Drugs?
Substance abuse is a compilation of experiences, environments and motivations that propel individuals into different directions. It is the unique makeup of an individual’s story. Everyone is brought to the same ending from a different beginning. While some experiences are shared, there are a plethora of risk factors that can contribute to the development of addiction. Most risk factors fall into one of several categories:
“There are individual differences in susceptibility to substance dependence due to environmental & genetic factors.“
Genetics contribute to the increased likelihood that a young adult will abuse drugs, and to what extent the substance abuse may escalate. Factors such as gene mutations in an individual’s DNA chemically predispose a person to addiction by as much as half. These can be passed along from family members over time, making it easier for one person to succumb to addiction than another. Learn more about the hereditary nature of addiction.
Biology plays a critical role in predisposition to addictive behaviors especially if the individual’s first experience with abuse is early in life. Experimentation during the most critical stage of development can affect susceptibility and lead many into more serious abuse. During adolescent years, the brain is developing its ability to assess situations and manage emotions. Exposure to drugs and/or alcohol during this process can result in increased risk for poor decision-making and lead many towards more risky behavior.
Mental health and the development of co-occurring disorders can amplify the side effects of drug and alcohol abuse. Many with issues such as depression use these substances in an attempt to self-medicate. In reality, the combination of mind-altering substances with mood disorders can intensify symptoms and increase mental distress. Learn more about dual-diagnosis treatment.
Use of various substances to numb pain and help those who are victimized by violence is common. To prevent further damage to family or to themselves, many do not seek medical help and use illicit substances to temporarily relieve pain and self-medicate. Substance abuse in these situations is especially vicious due to the “rebound effect” in which an individual coming off the effects of drugs and/or alcohol often experiences greater pain both mentally and physically.
Other Individual Risk Factors
While biological development and mental health are two importantn contributing factors of substnace absue, other individual risk factors include:
- Being a victim of child abuse
- Personality disorders
- Extreme changes in family situation
- Inter-family dependence problems
- Academic stress
- Poor academic performance
- Social deprivation
- Suicidal behavior
Familial and Peer Influences
Some of our earliest interactions in life play the biggest roles in our development. From early childhood to the ongoing development into adulthood, our relationships with family and peers have some of the greatest influence on the development of addictions. Conflict within the household can amplify stress and cause some to seek an escape through these substances.
For example, children exposed to criminal behavior and family members who abuse drugs/alcohol are at a greater risk of developing their own problems. The earlier in life a person is exposed to illicit substances, the higher the risk of addiction.
The strength of relationships within the family, structure of authority and overall happiness can affect the development and acceleration of abuse. While the family is not the sole source of influence on many young adults, they play one of the most critical roles as they determine an individual’s earliest social interactions.
An impoverished environment can increase the likelihood of abuse. Poverty can affect generations of family members due to lack of education and limited access to employment or healthcare. Poverty-stricken environments leave many experiencing lifestyles including incarceration, homelessness and poor health. Those who drop out of school, are unemployed or live in unsafe areas are at higher risk, especially if their home environment has already exposed them to drugs and/or alcohol.
In addition, the effects of poverty can leave many without access to treatment. Treatment and detoxification is difficult to accomplish, especially with limited resources. Those who have the ability to use public health services often have difficulty maintaining it long-term due to family responsibilities. Poverty is a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself as generations are born and raised in lifestyles of high-risk exposure.
Other Environmental Risks
While familial and peer influences, as well as poverty, contribute to substance abuse, other environmental risk factors include:
- Availability of drugs
- Social changes
- Employment status
- Type of occupation
- Cultural attitudes
Risk Factors Specific To Substance Abuse In College Students
Separation From Family and Friends
For many, college is the first time a young adult is away from family and friends. Thrust into an unknown world, the desire for companionship can lead many towards dangerous lifestyle changes. College is an impressionable time where the process of self-discovery leads some off-track especially when guided by desire for acceptance, no matter the recourse.
Recreational drug abuse and binge drinking have become normative behaviors among college-aged students. Additionally, popular media continues to portray drugs and alcohol as acceptable, enjoyable ways to relate to others and have a good time. Peer pressure can make even the most steadfast young adult submit to experimentation and a “just this once” mindset. Even with no other risk factors present, peer pressure can be one of the most influential forces in an individual’s life. Learn more about peer pressure on college campuses.
Academic Performance Pressure
Social situations, especially in college, can be especially tolerant of heavy substance abuse and even goes so far as to expect it. With a new set of expectations, including academic performance and the development of independence, the world and its expectations can seem especially challenging and trying. Just as in the case of mental disorders, some may use drugs and/or alcohol to cope with these new challenges. In an effort to release stress, some see no other alternative and begin developing addictive behaviors. Further enabled by the perception of social tolerance, many see no immediate risks or dangers in their choices.
Using Early Intervention To Combat Risk Factors in Young Adults
Risk factors can influence young adults in a variety of ways. The more risks present in an individual’s life, the more likely drug and/or alcohol addiction may develop. Risk factors become more influential during particular stages of life and can affect individuals differently depending on their own unique experiences. For most, the key is a healthy balance between risk factors and protective factors. Protective factors are characteristics that help reduce risk factors and can include:
- Parental supervision
- Time spent around positive influences
- Community or school that offers drug and alcohol education
- Academic competence
- A strong sense of self-control and self-worth
Early intervention in a young person’s development can curb the effect of risk factors of substance abuse and serves to bolster protective factors to combat the cloud created by negative influences. Learn more about a parent’s role in early intervention.
Seeking Treatment For Teen Substance Abuse
Should a loved one succumb to drug and/or alcohol abuse, there are options for treatment and sobriety. Sober College offers a comprehensive treatment program that accounts for an individual’s full set of experiences, motivations and influences to provide the most effective therapies. We take into account any and all factors that may cause addiction and provide healthy alternatives and coping mechanisms.
In addition, our dual-diagnosis program ensures those who struggle with co-occurring mental disorders receive proper attention and treatment in every avenue of their struggles. Feel free to give us a call at 800.465.0142 or fill out a contact form to learn more about our program.
Check out our addiction resources to continue learning about specific types of addiction and effective treatments.