People are most likely to begin misusing drugs—including tobacco, alcohol, and illegal and prescription drugs—during adolescence and young adulthood. Substance misuse in adolescents can range from experimentation to serious substance abuse disorders. All substance misuse, “even experimental use, puts adolescents at risk of short-term problems, such as accidents, fights, unwise or unwanted sexual activity, and overdose.” Children, preadolescents, and adolescents are vulnerable to the effects of substance misuse which increases the risk of developing long-term consequences, such as mental health disorders, underachievement in school, and a substance use disorder.
Adolescent and preadolescent substance abuse results in a child’s inability to control emotions and impulses. Teens are particularly susceptible to substance abuse because adolescence is the stage of the greatest vulnerability to addiction. During adolescence, the parts of the brain that are so critical for judgment and self-regulation do not fully mature until people reach 21 to 25 years of age.
Factors that increase vulnerability to addiction include family history (presumably through genes and child-rearing practices), early exposure to drug use, exposure to high-risk environments (typically, socially stressful environments with poor familial and social supports and restricted behavioral alternatives and environments in which there is easy access to drugs and permissive normative attitudes toward drug taking). Certain mental illnesses (e.g., mood disorders, attention deficit–hyperactivity disorder, psychoses, and anxiety disorders) can also contribute to substance abuse.
Prevention Related Standards