What Makes Teenagers Abuse Drugs and Alcohol?

Substance abuse has always been a serious problem many young people. 

According to the 2014 Monitoring the Future survey of drug use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, reported use of illicit drugs has generally gone down though alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco remain perennial favourites for many.  In 2014 alone, 19 percent of 12th graders admitted to binge drinking though this was still much lower than in previous years.   While tobacco use has declined in recent years, illicit drug use, including cannabis has shown little change over the past twenty years.

Polydrug use (use of more than one drug over time) appears fairly stable over time as well.  Based on different studies, incidence of polydrug use has ranged from 18 percent to 34 percent prior to age 16.   Though the drugs of choice tend to be alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis, more exotic drugs, including inhalants, prescription drugs, and "party"drugs such as ecstasy can be abused as well.   Along with the health problems associated with sharing of needles and internal organ damage, alcohol-related motor accidents are the single leading cause of teen deaths in the United States alone.   Overdose deaths linked to drugs such as heroin, amphetamines, and prescription drugs have increased steadily over the past ten years.

To gain a better understanding of why polydrug use is so popular among adolescents, researchers have been examining the role that psychological distress can play in substance use.   The link between depression and alcohol use appears particularly strong in younger adolescents (especially female adolescents), even when other factors such as behavioural problems and economic disadvantage are taken into account.    Depression and anxiety also appear to predict tobacco, cannabis, and inhalant use while anxiety alone appears to be a strong predictor of alcohol use.

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.



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