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Substance Abuse: Dealing With Teen Substance Use


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Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.   Substance Abuse: Dealing With Teen Substance Use

Use of alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants, and other drugs among adolescents is a major concern for parents. Preteens and teens are starting to use harmful and illegal substances at younger ages. Teen drinking, smoking, and drug use can affect general health, physical growth, emotional development, and school performance. You can recognize and respond to substance use by:

Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  What is teen substance use?
Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  Why is it important to recognize and deal with teen substance use?
Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  How to recognize and deal with teen substance abuse
Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  Where to go from here

What? - What is the medical information or key concepts related to the action?  What is teen substance use?

Test Your Knowledge

Answer the following questions to see whether you understand what teen substance abuse is.

  1. All teens who experiment with alcohol or another drug become addicted to the substance.

    1. True

      This answer is incorrect.

      Teens who experiment with alcohol or another drug do not all become addicted to the substance. For many teens, their substance use never goes any further than experimenting, and they usually do not have any problems as a result of their use. But for some teens, experimenting leads to regular or frequent use (abuse) of the substance.

    2. False

      This answer is correct.

      Teens who experiment with alcohol or another drug do not all become addicted to the substance. For many teens, their substance use never goes any further than experimenting, and they usually do not have any problems as a result of their use. But for some teens, experimenting leads to regular or frequent use (abuse) of the substance.


  2. After a teen becomes addicted, he or she completely loses control over his or her substance use.

    1. True

      This answer is correct.

      After a teen becomes addicted, he or she completely loses control over his or her substance use. Use of the substance takes up a significant portion of the teen's activities, continues despite the harm caused by use, and is difficult to stop. Addiction is chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal.

    2. False

      This answer is incorrect.

      After a teen becomes addicted, he or she does completely lose control over his or her substance use. Use of the substance takes up a significant portion of the teen's activities, continues despite the harm caused by use, and is difficult to stop. Addiction is chronic, progressive, and potentially fatal.


Why? - Why the action is important?  Why is it important to recognize and deal with teen substance use?

Many parents believe that teen substance use is just part of growing up and is not a problem unless it "gets out of hand." It is true that most teens do not have problems after experimenting with alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants, or other drugs. But all substances abused by teens stimulate the part of the brain that regulates pleasure, memory, learning, and emotions. The effects cause changes in a teen's alertness, perceptions, movement, judgment, and attention, making the teen more likely to:

Teen substance use can progress from occasional use (experimenting) to regular or frequent use, abuse, or physical and/or psychological dependence (addiction). If dependence develops, the teen may have problems maturing. This can make it hard to establish personal identity, form healthy relationships, gain physical and emotional independence, and prepare for the future.

The most serious consequence of teen substance use is the risk of addiction. Teens are at high risk for early development of addiction, especially if they start using drugs at a young age. In adults, addiction to a substance usually develops slowly. But a teen may rapidly progress from occasional use to addiction. Alcohol dependency and drug dependency require treatment for the person to stop using the substance. Recognizing the risk factors and signs of substance use can help you deal with a problem early. And that can reduce your teen's risk for becoming addicted.

Test Your Knowledge

  1. Which of the following can be affected if a teen abuses substances?

    1. Growth and maturity

      All of these answers are correct.

      A teen's ability to complete developmental tasks can be affected by substance abuse. If a teen becomes addicted, he or she may stop maturing, resulting in difficulty establishing personal identity, forming healthy relationships, gaining emotional independence, and preparing for the future. All answers are correct.

    2. Safe behavior

      All of these answers are correct.

      The teen may engage in other high-risk behaviors. The teen is more likely to ride in a car with someone who has been drinking or using drugs and is more likely to engage in unsafe sexual activity, which may lead to pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. All answers are correct.

    3. The ability to learn and achieve success in school

      All of these answers are correct.

      The ability to learn and succeed in school is affected if a teen abuses substances, because these substances affect memory, learning, attention, and judgment. Teens who abuse substances have difficulty in school and may even drop out. All answers are correct.

    4. Health and physical safety

      All of these answers are correct.

      Health and physical safety can be affected if a teen abuses substances. Even casual or first-time use of some substances can lead to permanent brain damage or sudden death. Also, car crashes are a leading cause of death among teens, and substance use is often involved in these crashes. Also, teens who abuse substances are at risk for being involved in homicides or committing suicide. All answers are correct.


How? - Learn the steps involved in taking action.  How to recognize and deal with teen substance abuse

You can recognize and deal with substance abuse in your teen by using the following techniques.

Is your teen using alcohol or drugs?

If you think your teen may be using substances, look for warning signs such as:

Has he or she experimented?

If you believe that your teen has begun experimenting with alcohol or other substances:

Is it "getting out of hand"?

Your teen may be having difficulties in school, at home, with relationships, or with the law related to substance use. These difficulties point to a substance abuse problem. If you think your teen is using any substance, including alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants, or other drugs—regularly or daily—don't ignore it. This use is serious and should not be denied or minimized. Frequent or regular use of a substance can quickly lead to physical or psychological dependence—or dependency may have already developed.

To help your teen:

Test Your Knowledge

  1. If you think your teen only experimented with alcohol or other substances but doesn't have a problem, don't do anything.

    1. True

      This answer is incorrect.

      If you think your teen has experimented with alcohol or other substances, talk with your teen about his or her use and any concerns you have. Review your alcohol and drug plan—or create one if you haven't. Ask your teen to stop using the substance, especially if you have a family history of substance abuse problems. Also, this is an important time to provide additional drug information and talk more specifically about different drugs and their effects on teens.

    2. False

      This answer is correct.

      If you think your teen has experimented with alcohol or other substances, talk with your teen about his or her use and any concerns you have. Review your alcohol and drug plan—or create one if you haven't. Ask your teen to stop using substances, especially if you have a family history of substance abuse problems. Also, this is an important time to provide additional drug information and talk more specifically about different drugs and their effects on teens.


  2. If your teen is using a substance frequently or regularly, he or she probably has a substance abuse problem.

    1. True

      This answer is correct.

      If your teen is using a substance frequently or regularly, he or she probably has a substance abuse problem. Also, your teen is probably having difficulties in school, at home, in relationships, and/or with the law related to his or her substance use. If you think your teen is using any substance, including alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants, or other drugs—regularly or daily—don't ignore it. His or her substance use is serious and should not be denied or minimized. Frequent or regular use of a substance can quickly lead to physical or psychological dependence—or dependency may have already developed.

    2. False

      This answer is incorrect.

      If your teen is using substances frequently or regularly, he or she probably has a substance abuse problem. Also, your teen is probably having difficulties in school, at home, in relationships, and/or with the law related to his or her substance use. If you think your teen is using any substance, including alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants, or other drugs—regularly or daily—don't ignore it. His or her substance use is serious and should not be denied or minimized. Frequent or regular use of a substance can quickly lead to physical or psychological dependence—or dependency may have already developed.


Where? - Other resources and organizations that can help you take action.  Where to go from here

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to recognize and deal with substance use in your teen.

Talk with a doctor

Talk with a doctor if you think your child or teen is using alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants, or other drugs. Ask for the doctor's help in dealing with your child or teen on this issue.

If you would like more information about alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants, and other drug issues in young people, the following resource is available:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI): http://ncadi.samhsa.gov.

More information about alcohol and drug use problems can be found in:

Credits for Substance Abuse: Dealing With Teen Substance Use

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Patrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction
Last Revised July 20, 2012

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