Adolescents Using Drugs or Alcohol are More Likely to Have Chronic Substance Abuse Problems as an Adult

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Adolescent substance abuse continues to be a top public health concern in the United States. This is especially true as the consequences of substance abuse are particularly devastating among younger individuals (physically, psychologically, socially, and financially).

According to the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, ninety percent of adults in the United States who suffer from chronic problematic use began smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before the age of 18 [1].  Understanding the risk factors that may increase an adolescent’s chance of becoming involved in substance abuse can be helpful in preventative measures.

With our nation’s youth facing more and more pressures within today’s society and culture, being aware of their struggles and vulnerabilities can be useful in finding ways to effectively guide and nurture them.

Many researchers have purposed their studies to examine what factors put adolescents at increased risk for developing an addiction.  Some of the risk factors identified include lack of family support, mental health issues such as severe anxiety or depression, and childhood maltreatment and abuse [2].

A recent study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs recently studied the correlation between teenagers in the child welfare system and risk of drug abuse in the United States. Using two national surveys for data collection, researchers leading this study set out to determine whether child welfare-involved youths are at greater risk for substance use than community youths [2].

Results from this study found that overall, teens within the nation’s welfare system were more likely to have tried marijuana, inhalants or hard drugs.  Researchers also found that about forty percent of kids from both the welfare system and the general population had admitted to drinking at some point in their lives [2].

Young girl struggling with Adolescent Substance AbuseWhile drug use was more common among adolescents participating in the child welfare system, not all of the youth were at equal risk for developing a drug or alcohol addiction.

One of the key risk factors identified for all teens participating in the study was delinquent behaviors, such as theft or using a weapon.

On the flip side of things, researchers found that a strong family support system protected teenagers from involvement with drugs and alcohol.  Teens with close family ties and parental involvement were at a decreased risk of substance and alcohol abuse.

Findings such as these are crucial, particularly as they reinforce the power of positive influence from family involvement.  According to the lead researcher of this study, Danielle L. Fettes, Ph.D., “When youth perceive that their parents or caregivers are actively engaged in their lives, this may steer them away from drugs.

Youth who feel supported by parents tend to have a better sense of self and better mental health and, in this case, are less likely to engage in high-risk behavior – which is important for this already high-risk population.”

Understanding these risk factors will hopefully be a gateway to improved prevention and intervention programs for our nation’s youth at risk for substance abuse, steering them toward a brighter future, free from addiction.


[1]:  Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. (2011). Adolescent substance use: America’s #1 public health problem.  New York, NY: The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

[2]:  Fettes, D. L., Aarons, G. A., & Green, A. E. (November 2013). Higher rates of adolescent substance use in child welfare versus community populations in the United States. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 74(6), 825.

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The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed and Approved by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 7, 2013
Published November 7, 2013, on