Substance Use Among Teens


The following will discuss the prevalence of substance use among adolescents, treatment options, and protective factors against substance use. Substance use in youth’s teenage years is a growing concern throughout the country. Many teens can fit the diagnosis of having an addictive disorder during their high school years. Adolescent brains are still within the developing stages and substance use has been shown to have significant impacts on brain functions in areas that control judgement, memory, learning, and self-control. Early detection and an integrated treatment process of therapy, rehabilitation, and medications are vital to helping teenagers treat their substance abuse disorders.

Religion and spirituality have been seen as having an impact on adolescent substance abuse. Those who are involved in religious activities are less likely to engage in substance use and delinquent behavior. Local community agencies and schools in Virginia have witnessed a rise in teenage vaping while in school. They are working together to employ programs and offer education to help fight against the challenges they face.

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So many changes start to take place during a person’s adolescent years. Teenagers become vulnerable to engaging in behaviors that put them at risk including substance abuse (Sharma, 2015). Of the adolescents that engage in substance use, alcohol has been reported to be the most commonly used drug of choice which puts them at risk for changes in their brain function and development (Margret & Ries, 2016). As adolescent substance abuse continues to be a significant problem more research is needed into prevention and treatment programs that are geared toward the adolescent population.

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Studies are showing that a substantial number of high school aged students are engaging in substance use. Three of four high school students report having used substances with addictive qualities such as cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol or cocaine by their senior year in high school. Resulting in a total of one in eight high schoolers meeting the criteria to be diagnosed with an addictive disorder (Feinstein, Richter, & Foster, 2012). Cigarette smoking is showing a decline in used among teens, but the opposite effect has happened on marijuana use. This could be contributed to the views on marijuana changing and now being perceived as less risky and more acceptable to use (Gutierrez & Sher, 2015).

Impacts on Development

Addiction has shown to affect the functioning of several different areas of the brain including decision making, self-control, emotion, learning, memory, and others. The brain is still in development stages during the teenage years therefore adolescents are more likely to engage in risk taking behaviors such as substance use. Drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances used in a person’s teenage years put adolescents at an increased risk for further use and addiction later on because of the negative impacts those substances have on the developing brain in the areas of judgement and reward seeking (Feinstein, Richter, & Foster, 2012).

Interventions and Recovery

It is possible that both prevention and treatment strategies are needed to help intervene in the problem of teenage substance use. Prevention programs are more widely used to address substance use among adolescents. Of the prevention strategies those that have shown to have some effectiveness have been school based educational programs and family-based programs. Family based programs provide early childhood education, social support, and skills training for parents and are designed to promote resilience and reduce risk factors in children who are at high risk (Sussman, 2011).

Being able to identify a teenager’s problems with substance abuse early is vital in treatment of the addiction. The use of screenings in primary health care, mental health settings, and the juvenile justice system can help aid in identifying potential problems for teenagers making it possible for earlier intervention (Feinstein, Richter, & Foster, 2012). Theory based treatment approaches have been shown to be effective interventions in the treatment of substance abuse problems among adolescents. Specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy, has been associated with improvements in substance use and suicidal behavior in teens (Sharma, 2015). Current recommendations of treatment for substance abuse include an integrated approach of therapy, rehabilitation, and appropriate medications to help deter continuous drug use (Margret & Ries, 2016).

Spirituality and Substance Use in Teens

Researchers are continuously looking for factors that provide protection against problem behaviors in teenagers. Among the protective factors against adolescent substance use are positive school connections, consistent parenting, and positive social skills and relationships. Religion and spiritual development have also been identified as protective factors against substance abuse in the teenage years. A study showed that adolescents who identified as “spiritual and religious” showed to have lower rates of tobacco and alcohol use than those who identified as not being either. Those that are highly and moderately involved in religious activities are shown to be less likely to engage in the use of addictive substances and delinquent behaviors than those who are not (Salas-Wright, Vaughn, Hodge, & Perron 2012).

Local Prevalence

Virginia is no stranger to reports of adolescent drug use. The local schools have seen a rise in teenage use of e-cigarettes and vaping. It has been found that vaping is more common as it attracts younger users and is harder for schools to catch due to the discreet look (Hammel, 2018). Recently, Virginia declared a statewide public health emergency on opioid addiction due to growing concerns (Neus, 2016). Local schools and community agencies are working together to educate youth to prevent future drug use and offer treatment to those who struggle with addiction.

Adolescents who abuse substances put themselves at risk for many difficult challenges. Substance use at an early age can possible lead to future addictions later on in their life. There are several factors that play a role in protective teens against substance use; however, as they develop and progress towards figuring out where they fit into the world, they are left with being vulnerable to influences as they desire to feel accepted.


  1. Feinstein, E. C., Richter, L., & Foster, S. E. (2012). Addressing the Critical Health Problem of Adolescent Substance Use Through Health Care, Research, and Public Policy. Journal of Adolescent Health,50(5), 431-436. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.12.033
  2. Gutierrez, A., & Sher, L. (2015). Alcohol and drug use among adolescents: An educational overview. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health,27(2). doi:10.1515/ijamh-2015-5013
  3. Hammel, T. (2018, May 07). Vaping by teens on the rise locally, across U.S. Retrieved from s/article_1f860da2-5192-11e8-bbfe-43435f1d5271.html
  4. Margret, C. P., & Ries, R. K. (2016). Assessment and Treatment of Adolescent Substance Use Disorders. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America,25(3), 411-430. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2016.03.008
  5. Neus, N. (2016, December 08). Drugs in Virginia: Opioid Addiction Part 1: Teen Addiction. Retrieved February 15, 2019, from virginia-opioid-addiction-part-1-teen-addiction
  6. Salas-Wright, C. P., Vaughn, M. G., Hodge, D. R., & Perron, B. E. (2012). Religiosity Profiles of American Youth in Relation to Substance Use, Violence, and Delinquency. Journal of Youth and Adolescence,41(12), 1560-1575. doi:10.1007/s10964-012-9761-z
  7. Sharma, M. (2015). Substance abuse in adolescents: implications for research and practice. Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education, 59(1), 3+. Retrieved from y&sid=OVIC&xid=50d0a46d
  8. Sussman, S. (2011). Preventing and treating substance abuse among adolescents. The Prevention Researcher, 18(2), 3+. Retrieved from y&sid=AONE&xid=93668c0f

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Substance Use Among Teens. (2022, Jan 10). Retrieved from

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