Help Is Available


Teen Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse Among Teens

Has Teen Substance Abuse Become America’s #1 Public Health Problem?

According to CASA Columbia, an information clearinghouse about addiction, adolescent and teen substance abuse has become “a public health problem of epidemic proportion.” Based on their recent study, CASA Columbia believes that teen substance abuse has become so prevalent that it will have severe consequences for the entire population.

Facts About Teen Substance Abuse

In a 2011 study on adolescent and teen substance abuse, CASA Columbia found that:

o 90 percent of Americans who become addicts begin using substances before age 18.
o Almost 50 percent of high school students are currently using substances.
o Twelve percent of high school students currently meet the criteria for addiction.
o Seventy-five percent of teens have used marijuana, cocaine, or alcohol at some point in their lives.
o Twenty-five percent of adults who used substances before age 18 have now become addicts.

Factors That Impact Teen Substance Abuse

The CASA Columbia study identified key factors that play a role in whether or not teens become substance abusers. These factors include:

o Family history
o Environment
o Genes
o Psychological factors
o Glamorization of substance abuse by adults and in the media

Risk factors for teen substance abuse include:

o Other substance abusers in the family
o Early traumatic events such as psychological or physical abuse
o A preexisting psychological condition like anxiety disorder, ADHD, PTSD, or depression
o Lack of nurturing by caregivers
o Impulsive or aggressive behavior
o Low self-esteem
o Inability to fit in socially
o Poor coping skills
o Friends who use substances
o Easy availability of alcohol and drugs

What, Exactly, Constitutes Teen Substance Abuse?

There are five stages in the development of a substance abuse disorder:

1. Access to addictive substances but not using them
2. Experimental, occasional and/or weekly substance use
3. Using one or more substances regularly and stealing or dealing to pay for it
4. Preoccupation with getting high and poor performance in other areas of life
5. Must have substances to function normally




How Does Teen Addiction Differ From Adult Addiction?

Adults and teens develop addictions differently, so they have different treatment needs. Teens are more likely to abuse marijuana and to seek treatment for that. When they do use alcohol, they usually binge drink. Adults, on the other hand, are more likely to abuse alcohol and to seek treatment for that.

Generally speaking, it’s easier for teens than adults to detox from a substance, because they experience fewer withdrawal effects. It’s also easier for teens to just stop using a substance. Teens are more likely to quit using substances when there are serious negative consequences for drinking or drugging. On the other hand, teens are more likely than adults to hide their substance abuse, and they are less likely than adults to seek help.

Unique Treatment Needs Of Teen Substances Abusers

Only ten percent of teens under 18 who need substance abuse treatment actually get it. Most teens who abuse substances do not believe they have a problem, so they tend to avoid treatment unless they are referred by the juvenile justice system. Teen substance abusers can be very difficult to treat. Whether it’s an inpatient or outpatient program, it’s important for adolescents and teens to receive treatment that focuses on their unique needs. There is some indication that teens may respond better to behavioral therapy than to other forms of treatment.

Scroll to Top