What Causes Teen Substance Abuse?

“Teens cause teen substance abuse.”

Anonymous

What causes teen substance abuse? Teens do. Teens do because they choose to use substances in the first place. Teens do because they choose to not stop using substances, even when those same substances are destroying their lives. In short, they do because they choose to use substances instead of natural means in order to fit in, to feel good, to feel better, to do better, and to experiment with the unknown.1

What is Substance Abuse?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the 5th Edition, no longer uses the terms substance abuse and substance dependence. Instead, it refers to Substance Abuse Disorder, which classifies such disorders as mild, moderate, or severe. The level of severity is determined by licensed professionals according to a number of diagnostic criteria that are met by an individual.2

Substance Abuse Disorder, or “substance-related disorders as those resulting from the excessive use of 10 separate classes of drugs: alcohol; caffeine; cannabis; hallucinogens (phencyclidine or similarly acting arylcyclohexylamines, and other hallucinogens, such as LSD); inhalants; opioids; sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics; stimulants (including amphetamine-type substances, cocaine, and other stimulants); tobacco; and other or unknown substances.3

“…the rewarding feeling that people experience as a result of taking drugs may be so profound that they neglect other normal activities in favor of taking the drug…often referred to as a ‘high.'”

Dr. Elizabeth Hartney, Very Well Mind

Criteria for Substance Abuse Disorder

Substance abuse disorders cover 11 different criteria:3

  1. Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than you’re meant to.
  2. Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to.
  3. Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of the substance.
  4. Cravings and urges to use the substance.
  5. Not managing to do what you should at work, home, or school because of substance use.
  6. Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships.
  7. Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use.
  8. Using substances again and again, even when it puts you in danger.
  9. Continuing to use, even when you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance.
  10. Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance).
  11. Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.
“Addiction occurs when repeated use of drugs changes how a person’s brain functions over time. The transition from voluntary to compulsive drug use reflects changes in the brain’s natural inhibition and reward centers that keep a person from exerting control over the impulse to use drugs even when there are negative consequences…”
Adolescent Drug Use: Summary of Key Findings, University of Michigan, 2013.

Ranking of Most Used and Abused Substances

In a study of 12th-graders, conducted by the University of Michigan in 2015, the following use percentages were determined:1
  • Marijuana 34%
  • Adderall 7.5
  • Synthetic Marijuana 5.2%
  • Tranquilizers 4.7%
  • Cough Medicine 4.6%
  • Vicodin 4.4%
  • Hallucinogens 4.2%
  • Oxycontin 3.7%
  • Sedatives 3.6%
  • Meth 3.6%
  • LSD 2.9%
  • Cocaine 2.5%
  • Inhalants 1.9%.

Perceived Reasons for Substance Use and Abuse

“The teen years are often considered the most difficult period of a person’s life. After all, how often do you hear anyone over the age of 30 wistfully say, “Oh, to be 15 again…”?

Promises Treatment Center

There is a difference between causes and risk factors. The cause is ultimately the person making the choice to use, and then ultimately, to abuse. Risk factors are those circumstances that persons find themselves in which influence the decisions they make. Those risk factors include: 4
  • low parent supervision
  • lack of communication with parent(s)
  • family conflicts or dysfunctions
  • inconsistent parental discipline
  • family history of substance abuse
  • physical or sexual victimization
  • learning or emotional problems
  • difficulty managing impulses
  • emotional instability
  • thrill-seeking behaviors
  • peer pressure
  • ignorance
  • to have fun
  • self-medication
  • modeling parent behavior
  • social boost
  • academic problems
  • boredom
  • curiosity
  • rebellion
  • other present disorders

1 “Principles of Adolescent Substance Abuse Disorder Treatment,” National Insitute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), 2014.
2 “Key Terms and Definitions,” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), 2016.
3 “A Guide to DSM5 Criteria for Substance Abuse Disorders: Elizabeth Hartney, Ph.D., 2018.
4 “Teen Drug Abuse and Recovery,” Next Generation Village.

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