Risk Factors for Adolescent Substance Abuse: What to Watch Out For

Teen addiction risk factorsSubstance abuse and addiction can greatly affect the brain’s functions over a period of time; adolescence is a period in which the brain is still developing, which makes our youth even more susceptible to physical, mental, social and spiritual repercussions. If you have a teen, you likely know that it is during these adolescent years that youth often begin to experiment – and become exposed to – substances. A question that has often been debated, however, is what makes one teen more susceptible to substance abuse over another. When presented, why might one adolescent turn away while another seizes the opportunity? As parents, teachers, professionals and family members, we want to ensure the safety of our teens – but in order to do this, we first need to know the risk factors that may be influencing their susceptibility.

Risk Factors for Adolescent Substance Abuse

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there are a wide range of genetic and environmental influencers that can make a teen more susceptible to abusing substances, but each person is different – which can certainly make it hard to predict which teens we need to be worrying about versus which ones we don’t. A 2017 study published in the journal Psychological Medicine assessed 1,037 people for child and adolescent risk factors pertaining to substance dependence. This is what they found:

  1. Low Family SES – researchers found that an adolescent whose parents are lower on the SES scale (such as parents who primarily work in positions such as cashiers or machine operators) are likely to be at higher risk for substance abuse than those whose parents are in higher SES scales, such as through being a manager, secretary or physician.
  2. Family history of substance dependence – previous studies have shown that genetics can increase our chances of susceptibility to substances; the closer the family member, the greater the risk factor.
  3. Childhood conduct disorder – symptoms of conduct disorder typically include deceitful behavior such as lying or shoplifting, destructive behavior such as vandalism, aggressive behavior such as cruelty to animals or bullying and more.
  4. Childhood depression – youth who experience symptoms of depression may experience sadness or a loss of energy and they may turn to substances in an attempt to cope with these undesirable symptoms.
  5. Early exposure to substances – using or purchasing substances, especially around the ages of 13, 15, or both, has been shown to increase a teen’s risk for abusing them later on. With this, one could guess that it’s this constant exposure that somewhat “normalizes” use for teens, making it seemingly easier for them to use.
  6. Adolescent frequent alcohol use – teens who reported drinking 5 or more days a week were at greater risk for developing alcohol use disorder (AUD).
  7. Adolescent frequent tobacco use – teens who use tobacco on a daily basis are likely to move on to other substances, such as alcohol and cannabis.
  8. Adolescent frequent cannabis use – youth who reported using cannabis at least 5 days a week are considered frequent cannabis users and are likely to use other substances as well.
  9. Male adolescents – researchers from the study found that male adolescents are more at risk for substance abuse than female adolescents, which could be related to developmental and social-related differences.

Signs of Teen Substance Abuse

As mentioned earlier, these risk factors cannot predict whether a teen will be more vulnerable to substances or not because each teen is different. There are adolescents who struggle with substance abuse and who do not meet any of the risk factors mentioned above and vice versa. As a more general note, it’s best to keep in mind the symptoms of teen substance abuse so that we can provide our adolescents with support right when they need it. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) lists some important symptoms to watch out for:

  • If your teen’s eyes are bloodshot or if their pupils are larger/smaller than normal
  • Sudden changes in appetite and sleeping patterns
  • Impaired coordination
  • Unusual smells
  • Changes in grooming/appearance
  • Skipping class
  • Sudden changes in friends
  • Acting isolated and withdrawn from others
  • Frequently getting into trouble at work, school or home
  • And more

Help Your Adolescent

Youth do not always have the ability to identify when help is needed to be sought and that’s where our parents, educators and community members can step in. By informing our teens of the dangerous risks involved with abusing substances, along with guiding them to the right resources when we recognize symptoms of substance abuse, we are combatting the tight pull that addiction tries to have on our loved ones.

If your teen is ready to start taking hold of their journey to recovery, please call Cumberland Heights today.

Adolescent Recovery of Cumberland Heights (ARCH) originally began in 1985 when there were few other adolescent programs like it in the country. In 2019, we’re expanding our continuum of services with ARCH Academy, a unique program that offers 60 days to 6 months of residential care to adolescent boys ages 14-18 who are struggling with alcohol and/or drug addiction. This new program stems from Cumberland Heights, which has been around since 1966 and is located in Kingston Springs, Tennessee. The adolescent age is a critical time for development, making this a crucial time of positive influence. For more information, call us today at 1-800-646-9998.