Substance Abuse Among Adolescents


The introduction brings up the issue of substance abuse among adolescents. It highlights the prevalence of the problem in the society and the need for parents to take up an active role in fighting the vice since substance abuse leads to serious consequences.

Literature Review

This is the section that discusses the research that has been carried out in the field of substance abuse among adolescents. Different researchers have delved into this issue in a bid to come up with facts and possible solutions to the problems. Under literature review, there are sub sections as outlined below.

Historical perspectives on substance abuse among adolescents

There are various perspectives with regard to the issue of substance abuse among adolescents. There are commonly abused substances such as alcohol and other common drugs but in addition to these, there are other substances that might seem as if they do not have an intoxicating capacity but their misuse amounts to substance abuse. Professionals involved in substance abuse such as marijuana justify their abuse by arguing that such substances have no intoxicating effects.

Emerging Theories on Adolescent Substance Abuse

There are different theories that have emerged in an attempt to explain various concepts related to substance abuse among adolescents. These theories present various perspectives of the issue and provide factual information on some of the factors that lead adolescents into drug abuse. The theories include:

Cognitive Affective Theory

This theory argues that the indulgence of adolescents in substance abuse is influenced by their beliefs regarding the outcomes of experimenting with drugs and other intoxicating substances.

Social Learning Theory

This theory is of the view that adolescents are highly influenced by people they consider their roles models. If the role models direct them in ways that expose them to substance abuse, then they are likely to fall into the trap of being substance abusers.

Social Attachment Theory and Conventional Commitment

This theory argues that adolescents engage in substance abuse as a result of their emotional attachment with their peers who abuse drugs and other intoxicating substances.

Intrapersonal Theory

Intrapersonal theory focuses on how the personality characteristics of adolescents such as emotions and behavioral skills influence them into substance abuse.

Gaps Existing in the Literature and the Field

One of the most prominent gaps existing in the literature on substance abuse among adolescents is that, the risk of adolescents living in poverty and high crime areas falling victims of substance abuse is not adequately focused on. These are individuals who are vulnerable and high attention should be paid to them to ensure that they do not find substance abuse an avenue of escaping the realities of the problems they go through.

Adolescents Substance Abuse is a Contemporary Social Issue

It is agreeable that substance abuse among adolescents is a contemporary social issue. This is because the adolescents form an important component of the society and their contribution is vital. Their indulgence in substance abuse implies that they cannot participate in productive activities to the loss of the society. The society is therefore concerned about the matter to ensure that the active role of adolescents in the society does not diminish.

Nature and Magnitude of the Issue

Substance abuse among adolescents is a serious problem that requires immediate attention and intervention measures. The number of youths who fall victims of the vice increases by the day hence the need for a remedy. Unless expedient measures are taken, the problem poses a great risk to the future lives of adolescents. Adolescents have the ability to influence their colleagues into substance abuse and this justifies the need to monitor peer interactions.

Role of Social work in Solving the Problem

Social work plays an important role in solving the problem of substance abuse among adolescents. One of the factors that might fuel the spread of the problem is idleness among adolescents. Social projects have been an effective way of keeping adolescents away from substance abuse since they make them occupied most of the times. Generally, social work plays an important role in reducing substance abuse among adolescents.

Literature Review


Drug abuse is a common phenomenon among the youth especially unemployed young people. It usually involves young people abusing various drugs that turn out to be harmful not only to the health of the individual, but also to the entire society in different ways. The vice is common in the society and there is need to involve families in its eradication since lack of family involvement contributes towards its increase. Families sometimes lack skills necessary to prevent young people from using and turning into drug addicts (Miller, n.d). Substance abuse among adolescents is a major problem that requires immediate intervention mechanisms to save the youths

Substance abuse by youths is a persistent public health problem worldwide, with alcohol being the most commonly abused substance among adolescents. According to Buddy (2011), substance abuse which is commonly known as drug abuse is the maladaptive sequence of drug or substance usage that is not seen as dependent. Examples of abused substances include alcohol, cocaine, opium, marijuana and heroine. Substance abuse leads to momentous problems such as inability to sufficiently take personal responsibility or even concentrate on school, work or home activities. Some issues may include the frequent application of substances in situations where drug abuse might be dangerous and lead to disastrous outcomes, for instance driving while under the influence of alcohol (Estroff, 2001). Substance abuse causes repeated legal problems to the users among them engaging in public intoxication or disorderly conduct, and the continued use of substances even though the substance use is causing considerable problems in the life of the user (Connors & Donovan, 2001).

Historical Perspectives on Drug Abuse

Apart from the commonly known substances that are abused, there are some other substances that can be abused for purposes of altering the moods of the abuser although they are not drugs at all. However, some other abused substances such anabolic steroids neither lead to mood alterations nor do they make the abusers intoxicated (McCrady, 1996). In most cases, a considerable number of people refer to substance abuse as the use of illegal drugs. Researchers who carry out studies on substance abuse and its effects argue that use of illegal drugs constitutes drug abuse.

This is because such drugs are potentially addictive or may result into severe negative health influences, thus any use of illegal substances is dangerous and abusive (Hartman, 1998). Other professionals argue that informal, recreational use of some drugs is not dangerous since it is purely normal use rather than abuse. For instance, it has been found out that those who advocate use of drugs for recreation use marijuana themselves. They argue that marijuana is not addictive and has significant number of beneficial qualities unlike hard drugs (Fisher & Harrison, 2000).

A good number of surveys have been conducted in a bid to demonstrate how various aspects affect the possibilities of young people indulging themselves in substance abuse. An article by Christoffersen & Soothill (2003) indicates that parental and family factors play an important role in encouraging long-term substance abuse among young people, although peer pressure has been described as a major factor that actually instigates substance abuse. This implies that even though most people view peer pressure as the main factor that makes most youths start abusing substances, it is vital to note that a positive family surrounding is a strong foundation that may prevent young people from engaging in substance abuse. In addition, this prevents young people from indulging in other behaviors such as juvenile delinquency and irresponsible sex (Zastro, 2009).

Emerging Theories on Adolescent Substance Abuse

Cognitive-Affective Theory

Cognitive affective theories focus on how the beliefs adolescents have regarding the impacts of experimenting on drug abuse influence their decisions to engage in substance abuse. Interventions that utilize this theory as their basis to fight substance abuse among the adolescents focus on making the youths belief that substance abuse leads to negative consequences, pointing out the benefits of staying away from drugs and giving corrections on misguiding perceptions or estimates on substance abuse.

Social-Learning Theory

This theory holds the view that adolescents derive their beliefs on substance and drug abuse including other forms of delinquent behaviors from people they consider their role models. This perspective makes it important to encourage adolescents to emulate role models with positive attributes, and teach them on how to say no to drug and substance abuse by believing that they can stay away from drugs.

Social Attachment Theory and Conventional Commitment

This theory argues that emotional attachments existing between adolescents and their peers who are substance abusers lead them into substance abuse. The theory focuses on the improvement of the bonds between adolescents and peer groups or pro-social institutions whose ideas are positive. Such groups are characterized by norms that keep adolescents away from indulging in unbecoming behaviors. The main aim of intervention measures is to improve the positive attributes among adolescents and provide their parents with enough knowledge on how to socialize with them and guide them accordingly.

Intrapersonal Theory

Intrapersonal theories look at how the personality characteristics of adolescents, behavioral skills and emotions lead them into substance abuse. Some of these examples include self esteem, emotional distress, school-related stress and skills of coping with situations. Intervention measures focus on most of the individual characteristics as opposed to focusing on the beliefs of adolescents regarding particular behaviors and drugs (Bukstein, 1995).

Gaps Existing in the Literature and the Field

There are some gaps existing in the literature on substance abuse among adolescents in general. One of the gaps existing in the literature is that there is a correlation between adolescents living in high crime and poverty stricken areas and substance abuse (Michael, 2009). This is a fact that has not been highlighted but one that is critical in fighting against adolescent substance abuse. Unless ways of rescuing adolescents living in poverty and high crime areas are devised, it would not be possible to deal with the problem effectively. This is an area that has not been well addressed with regard to substance abuse among adolescents.

The other gap evident in the literature and the field is that rehabilitation as one of the major methods of controlling substance abuse among adolescents has not been exhaustively addressed. Once youths, who are under substance abuse show the willingness to come out of substance abuse, they should be assisted to fight the problem through rehabilitation centers.

Knowledge Acquired through Research and Studies

Through various studies and the research conducted so far, the knowledge acquired is that despite the fact that peer pressure is quite influential, young people’s selection of the peers they interact with is highly influenced by their relationship with their parents. For instance, when youths have a positive relationship with the parents, they are most likely to select friends who would influence them in a positive manner. Families can help prevent substance abuse among youths by ensuring secure and healthy parent-child relationships, sufficient parental supervision, monitoring and effective discipline enforcement (Hussong & Chassin, 1997).

In addition, parents should ensure that they are involved in the lives of their children, promote communication of pro-social family values, as well as supporting them in all aspects of their lives including emotionally, cognitively, financially and socially.

Unclear Areas of the Field of Study

The issue of whether people have enough knowledge on the importance of changing the status quo in a bid to fight the substance abuse problem among adolescents remains unclear. This is because despite numerous campaigns on the importance of fighting substance abuse among adolescents, it seems a section of people does not take it seriously. However, the persistent worldwide public health outcry on the problem of substance abuse among adolescents is a clear indication that the problem is not a mystery to most people (Moos, Finney & Cronkite, 1990).

People should be aware that there is enough first-hand knowledge on alcohol as the most commonly abused substance among adolescents only that satisfactory preventive measures have not been taken. Therefore, it is the responsibility of everybody to empower the youth through supporting and educating fathers, mothers, guardians, and foster care parents. It is clear according to O’Farrell (1995), that in most cases, families can help prevent substance abuse among the youths by ensuring secure and healthy parent-children relationships, sufficient parental supervision, monitoring, and effective discipline enforcement.

Relating New Knowledge to the Literature Review

New knowledge in the field of substance abuse among adolescents has revealed that a lot needs to be done with regard to substance abuse among the youths. There are not enough preventive measures or deterrents that have been put in place to prevent youths from falling victims of substance abuse after new drugs are introduced into the market. Moreover, alcohol is readily available and is considered socially acceptable drink that can be introduced to the youths. It is hard to fight alcohol and other substance abuse among adolescents, but this is a legitimate concern that requires a lot of effort (NIDA, 2003). One could start by talking and supporting the adolescents in finding out the reasons that lead them into substance abuse. The focus on problems facing adolescents should not only be sexually inclined while ignoring the dangers posed by substance abuse.

Since substance abuse among adolescents is a sensitive issue that requires careful and comprehensive approaches in order to find a solution to the problem, there is the need to look for more information on certain issues. For instance, it is crucial to know if adolescents are adequately taught on how to be responsible and focus on their future lives. Perhaps, preparing them for a choice of moderation or abstaining may be the answer to drug and substance abuse among the adolescents. In addition, information on whether Slogans that encourage the adolescents to shun substance abuse are helpful is also critical (Pagliaro, 2011).

Empowering the youth to make worthwhile life decisions is another way of fighting alcohol and substance abuse among the youth. In addition, anti-drug reward systems such as scholarships, grants, and lower cost dorms for non-alcohol and drug users could also be introduced. Finally, parental involvement is essential and parents must be educated on how to reshape their families by teaching youths about the history and risks of alcohol and other substance abuse. Alcohol and substance abuse among the youths can be eliminated by encouraging the entire community to commit itself towards fighting the social problem.


With respect to the new knowledge that has emerged in this field, there is the need to shape the theories explaining substance abuse among adolescents in order to have updated information. For instance, social learning theory argues that parents influence adolescents since they act as role models to them. This theory should factor in the negative influence that parents may have on adolescents if they fail to be role models. Great effort is essential to ensure that substance abuse among the adolescents is eliminated.


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Connors, J. & Donovan, D. (2001). Substance abuse treatment and the stages of change: Selecting and planning interventions. New York, NY: Guilford Press

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Miller, T. (n.d). Reviewing theories of adolescent substance use: Organizing pieces in the puzzle. Web.

Moos, R., Finney, J. & Cronkite, R. (1990). Alcoholism treatment: Context, process, and outcome. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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O’Farrell, T. (1995). Marital and family Therapy: Handbook of alcoholism treatment. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Pagliaro, A. (2011). Handbook of Child and Adolescent Drug and Substance Abuse. New York: John Wiley&Sons.

Zastro, C. (2009). Introduction to Social Work and Social Welfare:Empowering People. New York: Cengage Learning.

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