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.
Avoiding eye contact
Depression or mood swings
A change in friends
Declining school performance
Loss of interest in hobbies
If you suspect substance misuse
- Assist the young person to access professional help and obtain an assessment.
- Seek information about local services, particularly provided by those who specialize in substance abuse.
- Help the young person or their parents access these services.
- Ensure the young person is supported to make and keep appointments.
Substance Abuse Treatment Locator
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides an online resource for locating drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs across the country. The Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator lists: private and public facilities that are licensed, certified, or otherwise approved for inclusion by their state substance abuse agency. https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/locator
There are many effective substance abuse prevention interventions that may have different areas of focus and can be implemented in a variety of settings. Prevention programs should target improving social emotional learning (SEL) and academic learning to address risk factors and increase protective factors.
Operation Prevention provides free resources for elementary, middle and high school students from the DEA and Discovery Education. Website: https://www.operationprevention.com/
WV Prevention First is a proactive, comprehensive stance on the importance of substance abuse prevention throughout West Virginia https://www.preventionfirstwv.org/
Train staff in Mental Health First Aid
Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour course that gives people the skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. The evidence behind the program demonstrates that it does build mental health literacy, helping the public identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness. Contact Dianna Bailey-Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org for training information.
For additional help and resources please visit
- https://helpandhopewv.org/ – West Virginia families and communities along with the rest of the nation continue to face the public health crisis of substance use disorder, but together we can restore our families and communities.
- https://helpandhopewv.org/teens-families.html – Parents and caregivers – you can influence whether your child uses alcohol or drugs. It is crucial that you start talking with your children about alcohol and drugs well before the teen years. The earlier a person starts using drugs or alcohol, the more likely they are to develop substance use disorders.
- https://stigmafreewv.org/ – Learn about the types of stigma experienced by people with substance use disorder. People who experience stigma are less likely to seek help or treatment. We are ALL part of the solution.
- https://sesamestreetincommunities.org/ – Please note that this site has an array of resources for almost type of experience: family homelessness, foster care, dealing with divorce, resilience, traumatic experiences, and many more.