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Treating Adolescent Substance Abuse Essay

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Experimenting with alcohol and drugs is nothing new for adolescents, but there is an increasing trend that more and more teens are abusing alcohol and drugs. According to the Colorado Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division of the Department of Health (1989), Colorado exceeds the national average in per capita consumption of beer, wine and liquor. These statistics are not exclusive to adults. As many as 65 to 75 percent of substance abuse in Colorado are between the ages of 12 to 29. Furthermore, 33 percent of teenagers experience problems at home, school, work or in the community stemming from substance abuse. The fact that teenagers become addicted more quickly than adults contributes to these problems (Office of Substance Abuse Prevention, 1989). There are some teens that experiment and stop but there are some adolescents that do not see the negative health consequences that come with abuse; this is where treatment comes in. No one person can be treated the same for alcohol and drug abuse, therefore adults and adolescents cannot be treated the same way either.

Treatments need to occur early in life because if substance abuse problems are not treated they can develop into worse and more dangerous conditions. Rising substance abuse problems among adolescents is on the rise. From the 1980s to the 1990s, the percentage of American youth ages 14-18 who require treatment for substance abuse doubled. Although rates of substance abuse have decreased since the 1990s, American secondary students have one of the highest rates of illicit drug use in an industrialized country (Alcaraz, 2010). Society should recognize that this is a serious problem. More research needs to be done on trends of substance abuse, risk factors, and treatment options for adolescents and families.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), illicit drugs include marijuana (includes hash), cocaine (includes crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, and non-medical use of prescription pain relievers, tranquilizers, sedatives, and stimulants (Alcaraz, 2010). Among these drugs marijuana is the most commonly used and the second most is prescription drugs. A study done by the University of California Riverside shows a correlation between frequency and severity of drug use and frequency and severity of juvenile delinquency (Alcaraz, 2010). In addition to legal problems, substance abuse can lead to health concerns.

Substance abuse can lead to physical health and mental health concerns.

Numerous studies have demonstrated associations between adolescent drug use and abuse and symptoms scales on measures of low self esteem, depression, antisocial behavior, rebelliousness, aggressiveness, crime, delinquency, truancy, and poor school performance (Armstrong, 2002). The only way to prevent substance abuse is prevention. The best way to prevent something is to identify the risk factors. Research indicates that youth most likely to engage in substance abuse exhibit a range of dysfunctional and antisocial behavioral and are poorly bonded to school, families, or prosocial peers (Eggert, 2006).

One of the most recognized and a common form of prevention is a school based program called DARE. This acronym stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education. This program was created in by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1983 along with local school districts. Since its inception, DARE has been adopted by approximately 50% of local school districts nationwide, and it continues to spread rapidly (Ennett, 1994). DARE typically is offered to older elementary grade students, before moving on to middle school. But how effective is the program? Susan Ennett, PHD, conducted a study on this topic. She concluded that DARE’s immediate effects were short lived and long term effects of the program were almost nothing. There is no evidence that DARE’s effects are activated when subjects are older. Most long term evaluations of drug abuse prevention programs have shown that curriculum effects decay rather than appear to increase with time (Ennett, 1994). When broken down by drug students responded better and longer to tobacco. If school based programs are not producing successful results, risk factors must be identified.

Risk factors for this type of behavior can be the result of a variety of things. Researchers have broken risk factors into three broad categories, Genetics and Biology, Psychosocial Influences and Environmental. Genetically, researchers suggest that certain chromosomes contain genes related to substance use and dependency, although variations in genes that affect the nervous system may also play a part in substance use disorders (Alcaraz, 2010). There is also research that shows unborn children being affected by the pre natal behavior by the parent. Prenatal exposure to tobacco, alcohol and drugs puts infants at risk to develop substance problems later on (Volkow, 2005). This should be a red flag to society and show how important it is to have proper pre natal care and behavior. This research also goes into how changes in the prefrontal cortex during adolescents, may also affect the susceptibility to drug use. Psychosocial Influences are conditions such as ADHD, depression, learning difficulties and low self esteem.

Adolescent antisocial behavior such as aggression, fighting and truancy, as well as antisocial beliefs and values about substance use, are also considered to be risk factors (Alcaraz, 2010). Environmental risk factors mean just that, depending on where an individual lives or spends most of their time can be a risk factor for substance abuse. Since adolescence is the time most people being to socialize heavily with friends, peer pressure is included in the environmental category. Having peers who use drugs or hold positive beliefs about substance use increases adolescents’ risk for substance abuse (Padina, 2010). Further research supports that the opposite is also true. The likelihood of substance abuse decreases when teens are associated with teens that have positive values and are anti-drug minded. Of every environmental factor, there is one that stands out the most as the most crucial. Almost every researcher can agree that one aspect of an adolescent’s life can either positively or negatively affect their decisions when it comes to substance abuse. That aspect is family. There have been studies that can predict risk factors as a percentage, such as the Virginia Twin Study. This study was comprised of 1,412 male and female twin pairs aged 8 to 16. In this Study, heritability effects were strong for lifetime tobacco (heritability of 84%) and alcohol (72%) use, moderate for lifetime drug use (45%) and modest lifetime marijuana (22%) use (McGue, 2000). It is important for families to be aware of these statistics, because their actions have longer lasting effects than they may realize. Substance abuse is not just a problem for the individual, but for that individual’s family as well. Because of the nature of an addictive problem, the family may be unaware of the problem until confronted by law enforcement, the school or another source outside the family. One of the strongest factors that influence alcohol and substance abuse is family interaction. Since the late 1960’s, some researchers and counseling professionals have considered addictions a family disease (Steinglass,
1979). That is why treating an entire family may be beneficial. Family therapy is becoming more common when dealing with a troubled teen.

This therapy is designed to meet the needs of all parties involved in the situation. Traditional intervention and prevention strategies such as incarceration, detoxification and rehabilitation, and public health education have not had much sustainable impact on reducing adolescent substance use and abuse (Botvin, 2010). The advances in family based therapy have made this therapy increasingly popular. Treatment research in the adolescent substance abuse specialty has evolved rapidly in the past decade. Family based therapies have been among the strongest performers in the outcome studies on adolescent drug abuse (Ozechowski, 2000). This type of therapy forces changes in the teenager as well as the family. Helping an adolescent who is struggling with substance abuse problems is only a short term fix. Helping the family as well as the troubled teen is a long term fix, and it helps any family member that may be contributing to any problems. Family members may actually be enablers without even knowing it. An enabler is someone who helps something to happen. Even after family based therapy is completed it does not mean that the adolescent is not going to struggle with temptation ever again. The high rate of relapse among adolescents with substance use disorders is disturbing. Patients in outpatient interventions commonly participate in brief, intense treatment that does not include aftercare. Effecting change among patients during treatment is relatively easy compared with sustaining gains without aftercare, particularly during the first year after an acute episode of treatment (Kaminer, 2001). Kaminer further states in his article that there have not been many studies that involves after care and adolescents, but the amount of success that adults have with after care should correlate to teenagers as well.

As rates of substance abuse continue to raise the amount awareness of risk factors and treatment also needs to increase. Teenagers are using legal and illegal drugs and alcohol. This is why prevention is important. A study has showed that the DARE program may not have lasting effects and identifying risk factors maybe more crucial. Risk factors include Genetics and Biology, Psychosocial Influences and Environmental. Peers and Family are two of the most major contributors to substance use and abuse. There are also studies that show heritability of
certain drugs, all stemming from family bloodlines. Regional studies reveal that 7 to 10 percent of adolescents are in need of treatment, but only a small number of those individuals with sever substance use disorders, co-morbid psychiatric disorders or legal problems receive treatment (Kaminer, 2001). Adults and adolescents are typically not treated for substance abuse in the same manner. A treatment that has gained support is the family based therapy, but even with this treatment after care is still recommended. With the right identification and treatments adolescent substance abuse can be reduced, hopefully one day for good.

Works Cited

Alcaraz, R. (2010). Adolescent Substance Abuse. Souther California Academic Center of Excellence on Youth Violence Prevention, University of California, Riverside, Spring 2010, 1-8. Armstrong, T. (2002). Community Studies on Adolescent Substance Use, Abuse, or Dependence and Psychiatric Comorbidity. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 70, No. 6, 1224-1239. Botvin, G.J, Griffin, K.W. (2010). Advances in the Science and Practice of Prevention: Targeting Individual-Level Etiologic Factors and the Challenge of Going to Scale. Handbook of Drug Use Etiology: Theory, Methods, and Empirical Findings, 631-650. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Colorado Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division (1989). State plan for alcohol and drug abuse treatment, prevention and quality care: Alcohol and drug abuse problem in Colorado — demographics and statistics: Vol. B. (Available from Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division, Colorado Department of Health. Eggert, L., Randell B.P. (2006). Drug Prevention and Research for High-Risk Youth. In Z. Sloboda & W. Bukoski (Eds.), Handbook of Drug Abuse Prevention, 473-495. New York, NY: Springer Science Business Media. Ennett, S., Tobler, M. (1994). How Effective Is Drug Abuse Resistance Education? American Journal of Public Health, vol. 84 no. 9, 1394-1401. Kaminer, Y. (2001). Adolescent Substance Abuse Treatment: Where Do We Go From Here? Psychiatric Services, vol. 52 no. 2, 147-149. McGue, M., Elkins, I. (2000). Genetic and Environmental Influences on Adolescent Substance Use and Abuse. American Journal of Medical Genetics, vol. 96, 671-677. Ozechowski, T., Liddle, H.A. (2000). Family Based Therapy for Adolescent
Drug Abuse: Knowns and Unknowns. Clincal Child and Family Psychology Review, vol. 3, 269-298. Pandia, R.J. (2010). Peer Influences on Substance Use During Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood Handbook of Drug Use During Etiology: Theory, Methods, and Empirical Findings, 383-402, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Steinglass, P. (1979). Family Therapy with Alcoholics: A review. In Kaufman, E. & Kaufman, P. (Eds.). Family therapy of drug and alcohol abuse, 147-186. New York: Gardner Press. Volkow, N.D., Li, T. (2005). Drugs and Alcohol: Treating and Preventing Abuse, Addiction and their Medical Consequences. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, vol. 108, 3-17.

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