Our Concierge Evaluation Program provides adolescents and young adults with comprehensive evaluations, one-on-one access to your team, and world-class care coordination and support. Contact J. Flowers Health Institute to learn more.

Adolescent Substance Use Disorder

Adolescent Substance Use Disorder

Table of Contents

How Prevalent is Adolescent and Young Adult Substance Use?

Adolescent substance use disorder is a worldwide issue that can affect children as young as 9. With the increase in social connectivity, adolescents are gaining easier access to dangerous substances at an alarming rate. While substance abuse is harmful to any age group, adolescent drug abuse tends to lead to longer addiction periods and life-long consequences.

Adolescent Substance Use Statistics

Here are the facts about adolescent substance use.

  • Alcohol abuse causes 3,500 adolescent deaths per year
  • Adolescents drink more per session than adults
  • In 2018, 4,633 adolescents overdosed, a 273% increase from 1999
  • two-thirds of abused drugs come from friends

These adolescent substance use statistics are ever-changing as new studies and surveys come to light. However, essentially every clinical or government study shows an increase in adolescent substance use statistics over the last few years.

Spotting and Diagnosing Adolescent Drug Use

Adolescent or young adult drug use cannot always be prevented due to social and environmental exposures. However, preventing further adolescent substance use disorder is equally important. Being able to spot the signs and symptoms of the beginning stages of substance abuse can be the key to keeping an adolescent life on track. The following are some of the most common signs and symptoms of substance use disorder.



Substance Abuse Evaluation

The main cause of substance abuse going undiagnosed is due to the unpredictable nature of teenagers as well as young adults. Many teenagers are already moody, unorganized, or any other potential indicator of substance use disorder. An effective way to determine if drugs are the culprit is to undergo a substance abuse evaluation. A substance abuse evaluation is used to determine the following:

  1. If the person fits the substance use disorder criteria
  2. Treatment options
  3. The impact of substance abuse on a person’s life.

These evaluations can be court-ordered or requested. They can also be found online if professional oversight isn’t possible.

The Dangers of Adolescent Substance Use

During adolescence, also known as the formative years, habits become more permanent and contribute heavily to self-identity. This process can change the nature of addiction to make it more internalized than with adult counterparts. Combined with the greater excess of adolescent drug use; the short-term and long-term effects are often more pronounced.


Scholastic failure

Prone to physical injury 

Compromised immune system 

Juvenile delinquency 



Life-long substance use disorder issues 


Fractured relationships

Physical health issues 

Mental health issues 

Failure to maintain steady employment 

Legal problems including potential jail time 


Effectiveness of Interventions

The effectiveness of an intervention is based on the individual, the interventionists, and the structure of the intervention. A key part of an intervention structure is to not shame or guilt the person. This feeling can result in becoming more withdrawn and worsen the effects of substance abuse.


It’s important as well to plan who is going to speak and in what order. It can help to review certain talking points to maximize effectiveness. The goal of an intervention is to show the adolescent how their actions are affecting those around them and to offer consistent emotional support.

Why do Adolescents and Young Adults Take Drugs?

The cause behind adolescent and young adult drug abuse varies as much as adult drug use. Certain overlapping causes between the two are still being studied.

Genetic Issues

Some individuals are genetically prone to addiction. This can be caused by a family history of addiction or drug use while pregnant. Substance abuse caused by genetic issues does not drastically differ from other causes. In other words, being prone to addiction does not make it less likely to recover.

Social Issues

Social issues can include peer pressure, environment, and general life stressors. Adolescents or young adults that live in a home prone to alcohol and drug use have easier access to either. They may not see the danger of substance use due to these reasons. For example, an adolescent who has a family culture of substance abuse may feel safe or even encouraged to repeat this habit.

Mental Health Issues

Depression and anxiety issues are just some of the issues that can spur substance use disorder. Young adults and adolescents may attempt to overcome social depression and anxiety by abusing drugs to be better accepted by their peers. Additionally, adolescents with access to psychological prescription drugs such as Xanax may be encouraged to abuse or sell them to friends.

What Drugs are Most Frequently Used by Adolescents and Young Adults?

Surveys have shown that adolescents as a whole have experimented with most drugs including, prescription, recreational, and chemical; such as huffing or cough medicine. However, marijuana is by far the most frequently used drug by adolescents and young adults. A distant second is amphetamines and in last place are hallucinogens.

Is Tobacco a Drug of Concern?

While tobacco causes a plethora of serious medical conditions; the long-term effects of tobacco have little effect on social relationships, scholastic endeavors, and cognitive function. Furthermore, overdosing on nicotine is an exceedingly rare occurrence. However, tobacco is well known to create many other chronic and dangerous conditions.

Is it Possible for Children to Become Addicted to Marijuana?

Studies have shown that marijuana addiction is a real, albeit rare, occurrence. As such, adolescents are susceptible to marijuana addiction. However, the severity of marijuana addiction and its long-term effects vary drastically from other drug addictions, namely opioids or alcohol.

Psychological vs Physical Addiction

The substance use disorder criteria are slightly different for marijuana as it doesn’t have the same physical effects of other drug addictions such as organ failure, brittle bones, etc. However, the psychological effects are still apparent. I.E. changes in mood, extreme focus on getting high, loss or disregard of social relationships, and poor scholastic performance.

Do Children Abuse Prescription Drugs?

It’s worth noting that not all adolescents and children who abuse prescription drugs go on to face long-term addiction. But children with access to prescription drugs and insufficient guidance or oversight are just as likely to abuse them as their teenage counterparts.

Treatment for Substance Use

Behavioral Approaches

If the cause of the substance use disorder is behavioral issues such as rebellion due to divorce, moving, death, or other dramatic life changes then a behavioral treatment approach might be best. This is best done in a therapy setting but it begins at home. Reinforcing positive action and listening with the intention of understanding the root of the frustration can go a long way in preventing or treating substance abuse.

Medications-Assisted Treatment

Should a substance dependency build up then overcoming it requires a withdrawal period, medication-assisted treatment can help lessen the symptoms of withdrawal. Furthermore, this can also help lessen the cravings for substances by blocking certain receptors in the brain. Not all substance dependencies have an approved medication for treatment.

Family-Based Approaches

An intervention is an example of family-based therapy. Ensuring that the adolescent or young adult is aware of and familiar with their support system can go a long way in battling substance abuse.

Recovery Support Services

Recovery support services for substance use treatment allow an individual to meet others with substance use disorders that have overcome addiction. Ensuring an adolescent is surrounded by positive influencers that understand what they’re going through creates a safe environment for recovery.

Intense Outpatient Care

Intense outpatient care or IOP for young adult and adolescent substance use treatment is a recovery method that offers intense medical and psychological care during the day while allowing the individual to return home at night. This option allows for consistent professional support without moving a patient too far away from home.

Partial Hospitalization Program

A partial hospitalization program or PHP for substance use treatment is used for more severe cases. This means there is a higher chance of relapse, self-harm, or a judgment-impairing mental condition, all of which require additional oversight.

Teach Positive Skills at Home to Reduce SUD

Substance use in adolescents and young adults is an ongoing issue. Prevention and treatment for this issue begin at home. Teaching positive ways to respond to peer pressure, and ensuring they understand the consequence of drug experimentation is key to achieving scholastic or career success in their early
20’s. If you or anyone you know is in need of a new lifestyle, then reach out to local treatment centers for help and more information.