Adolescent Substance Abuse Factors and Treatment

Adolescent substance abuse is a serious problem. Early use of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol has shown to lead to further use of it in the future and the development of habits and addictions. There is a variety of influential factors that can inspire adolescents to start using substances. This paper will cover three of the most common factors and the most effective type of treatment for substance abusers.

Influential Factors

Social Relationships

One of the most common reasons for adolescent substance abuse is social relationships. These relationships often bring peer pressure, positive associations with drugs, and group mentality. Adolescents often seek a feeling of belonging to a larger group, which could lead them to their first substance use experiences. This effect not only applies to groups of drug users but also adolescents who recreationally use alcohol and tobacco. The desire to fit in and positive ideas of drugs are a very common reason for future substance abuse (Dolgin, K. 2010).

Depression and Anxiety

Psychological factors can also play a significant role in the development of substance abuse habits. Adolescents often do not have self-defense mechanisms for dealing with anxiety, depression, and other psychological issues. For some, issues of low self-esteem, tensions at home, and in their social circles, problems with school or money leave them feeling helpless and without an idea of how to fix these problems. Even such a common trait as shyness could lead to this conclusion. They might use drugs and alcohol as a way of feeling more comfortable in social situations. This feeling is often combined with the lack of education on the dangers of recreational substance use. Eventually, they decide to partake in substance use to cope with these issues. This behavior is especially dangerous because it creates a dependency on substances as the only solution to psychological issues (Dolgin, K. 2010).

The Search for New Experiences

Adolescence is a period of exploration. With people’s brains being able to support independent thought at this stage, it is not uncommon to go against warnings to experience new pleasures and sensations. In some social groups, drugs like marijuana or alcohol might be associated with fun and excitement. This association can encourage an adolescent to experiment with these substances. Cultural perceptions may be another side of this factor. One of the reasons behind cigarette use restriction in movies is specifically to avoid portraying cigarettes as “cool” objects. Substance use in media can often be portrayed as a positive experience or perhaps as a trivial one. This impression only makes it more attractive for adolescents (Dolgin, K. 2010).


There exist many different types of treatment for adolescent substance abuse. Unfortunately, comparative research on this topic does not provide a clear answer to which treatment is more effective. Still, there is good evidence that family therapy is one of the more effective treatments. This approach’s efficacy has led to the creation of different types of family therapy (Tanner-Smith, Wilson, & Lipsey, 2013). “Brief Strategic Family Therapy” focuses on possible unhealthy family interactions (Szapocznik, Muir, Duff, Schwartz, & Brown, 2013). “Family Behavior Therapy” focuses not only on substance abuse but also on behavioral problems. “Functional Family Therapy” seeks to improve communication and parenting skills (Alexander, Waldron, Robbins, & Neeb, 2013). “Multidimensional Family Therapy” involves a more community-oriented approach. “Multisystemic Therapy” is an even more complex version of the former type, and it has shown great results in dealing with substance abuse (Sexton & Lebow, 2015).


Adolescents are very vulnerable to developing substance abuse habits. They may be inspired by their peers, their problems, or even a simple search for fun. It is important to make sure that if a young person becomes addicted, they receive the best possible treatment, often family-oriented.


Alexander, J. F., Waldron, H. B., Robbins, M. S., & Neeb, A. A. (2013). Functional family therapy for adolescent behavior problems. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Dolgin, K. (2010). Adolescent development, relationships, and culture (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Sexton, T. & Lebow, J. (2015). Handbook of Family Therapy. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Szapocznik, J., Muir, J., Duff, J., Schwartz, S., & Brown, C. (2013). Brief Strategic Family Therapy: Implementing evidence-based models in community settings. Psychotherapy Research, 25(1), 121-133. Web.

Tanner-Smith, E., Wilson, S., & Lipsey, M. (2013). The comparative effectiveness of outpatient treatment for adolescent substance abuse: A meta-analysis. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 44(2), 145-158. Web.