Why Adolescent Substance Abuse is Rising

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Why Adolescent Substance Abuse is Rising

Beer and MarijuanaConcerns about drug and alcohol abuse among teenagers have always been a problem. However, adolescent substance abuse is rising today at faster rates than ever before.

Although preventive measures are taken in schools and communities, teenagers and young adults are still abusing drugs and drinking alcohol at an early age. The recent rise in adolescent substance abuse has forced the issue back into the limelight as authorities realize that the problem has not diminished over the years.

Adolescent Substance Abuse on the Rise

Surveys related to adolescent substance abuse have shown results that are surprising. After years of seeing a gradual downward trend or a stalled rate of adolescent substance abuse, teens are starting to abuse drugs more. The rising trend in substance abuse has not impacted every type of drug, but it is impacting certain substances.

Adolescents are more likely to abuse the following substances than any others:

  • Alcohol
  • Prescription Pain Relievers
  • Ecstasy
  • Marijuana

The rise in adolescent substance abuse is primarily within those three categories.

Drugs that remain stable and have not seen an increased rate of abuse include:

  • Crack
  • Heroin
  • Over-the-counter medications

While certain drugs are relatively stable, it is the rise in other categories that are disturbing to parents and officials. Adolescents are not taking the dangers of substance abuse seriously and are likely to face consequences.

Budget Cuts in Prevention Methods

A major reason for the rise in drug and alcohol abuse among adolescents is the budget cuts throughout different areas of the country.

Budget CutsSchools and community programs do not have enough money to continue the extensive preventative measures that were used in previous years. As a result, adolescents are more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors from ignorance.

The budget cuts on preventative measures are more profound in certain areas than others. Depending on the level of cuts and the cost of running preventative programs, different areas are seeing a differing level of increased substance abuse.

The areas with the highest rate of budget cuts are seeing a greater amount of increased drug abuse. The fact that many children and teenagers are not aware of the dangers plays a significant role in the risky behavior.

Teenagers are not as educated about the impact of drugs or alcohol on the body, so they do not feel that the behavior is dangerous.


The availability of drugs and alcohol impacts the rate of abuse. Certain substances are easy for teenagers to obtain and abuse without taking major risks with the authorities. Depending on the substance and the location, the ability to find the drug can vary.

PillsPrescription medications that are used for a large number of health concerns are among the easiest for teenagers to abuse.

Prescription painkillers are given to a large number of men, women, and teenagers each year. The pain relievers are provided to help fight discomfort from injuries, accidents or illnesses that cause physical pain or discomfort.

When a loved one is taking pain relievers or a teenager is given the medications for legitimate reasons, it is easy to obtain the drugs. When the drugs are taken in a way that deviates from the doctor’s orders or another individual’s prescription is used, then it is a form of drug abuse.

In many cases, the drugs that are on the rise are the easiest to find and obtain. In states where marijuana is legal for medical purposes, teenagers can find the drug in similar ways as any other prescription. In other states, the drug is a little less accessible.

AlcoholAlcohol is also readily available. Even if adults refuse to purchase the drinks for children, parents or older siblings might purchase the alcohol for personal consumption.

Teenagers can easily take the drink or find those who are willing to purchase the alcohol and are old enough for the purchase.

The growing trend in certain substances is related to the ease of obtaining those drugs. When it is easy to find the drugs and it does not present a major risk, teenagers are more likely to try the substance.

False Confidence

Addiction is a concept that is not always easy for teenagers and adolescents to understand. Although a teenager might realize that addiction is possible, it is easy for those young individuals to assume it only happens when drugs are abused on a regular basis.

The reality is that addiction can occur the first time a substance is abused, even if it was never abused previously.

Adolescents do not always realize that substance abuse is a risk to health and life.

Almost half of the teenagers who abuse alcohol and have been drunk feel that it is not a great risk to health. Only about one-third of teenagers think that drunkenness is bad. The large numbers of adolescents who feel that drunkenness is not risky suggest that teenagers have a false sense of security, safety, and confidence when it relates to substance abuse.

False ConfidenceThe feeling that drugs or alcohol are safe might seem surprising, but adolescents do not assume the substance is more dangerous than the reality. Adolescents are more likely to assume that substance abuse is less risky due to that false feeling of confidence and security.

Still Developing Brains

Among other reasons that adolescents are increasingly abusing drugs and alcohol is the development of the brain. Until a child reaches adulthood, the brain is still developing and changing.

The pre-frontal cortex is not fully developed until around 20 years old, which means that a teenager is not yet fully developed when it comes to decision-making skills.

Since the brain is still developing, teenagers can make risky decisions that seem silly or odd to adults.

They are likely to make riskier decisions and engage in dangerous behaviors without thinking it through because that area of the brain is still growing and developing.

Still Developing BrainsDecision-making and problem-solving skills take the time to fully develop.

Emotional Reasons

Substance abuse has many possible reasons and it is still true that teenagers and adolescents can abuse drugs and alcohol for reasons that are not part of the trend.

In some cases, substance abuse is directly related to emotions and mental health.

Emotional reasons are a challenging source of increased rates of substance abuse because it is hard to identify. Teenagers who are abusing drugs and alcohol can be running away from problems or trying to overcome emotional pain that makes the substance seem like a useful way to fight back.

EmotionalWhen substance abuse is related to emotional or mental challenges, treatment is a necessity. Identifying emotions or mental health as the cause of substance abuse will ensure that teenagers are getting the right type of help and can move forward. Without addressing the emotional challenges or the mental health concerns, the cycle of substance abuse will continue.

Working for a Positive Future

The rise in adolescent substance abuse is a disturbing trend. Although the reasons for the increased rates of drug or alcohol abuse are variable, common elements are found in many cases. The limited preventative measures, ease of finding the substance and the challenges of a body and mind that are still developing can make it hard to address the issue. Fortunately, understanding the causes will make it possible to start working on a realistic solution.