The Substance Abuse Issue Among Youth - A Wake Up Call
While the rates of substance abuse in youth are declining, it remains an important issue which affects way too many young people all over the world. When talking about substances, one often refers to alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, but other drugs are also a big component of the crisis. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2020) states that alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco are most commonly used by teenagers. The same source also confirmed that, although being illegal for them to do so, people from 12 to 20 years of age are reported to consume approximately one tenth of all alcohol in the United States.
Like any other risky behaviours at a young age, substance abuse takes a major toll on growth and development - especially the development of the brain, which is still very impressionable. “Insights about brain development provide additional clues as to why adolescence might be a particularly vulnerable period for developing a substance use disorder” (Winters and Arria, 2011). Substance abuse as an adolescent can contribute to the development, and even lead to health issues as an adult, such as heart diseases, disruption of motor functions, high blood pressure, social inhibitions, and even sleep disorders. It is also believed that youth with substance abuse issues are at risk, higher than the “normal” child, of being involved with the legal system (Leslie, 2008). The same people’s education is also at risk of being interrupted or affected in a negative way.
Even if there is no accurate prediction to determine whether a child will develop a substance abuse problem, some markers of risk can be used by physicians, social workers, or parental figures to provide adequate support to an adolescent who might be struggling. They are the following :
Family history of substance abuse (also during a pregnancy);
Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community;
Living with a mental health disorder;
Living in the streets (Leslie, 2008).
Teenagers can find themselves commonly in environments that include tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs. Parents can try to prepare for this eventuality by informing their children of facts, sharing their values, and teaching them how to make smart and safe decisions about substance use. Obviously, prevention can fail. As treatments, harm-reduction strategies have been offered to modify behaviour, which may lead to a complete elimination of the abuse. There is also no data that proves the real effectiveness of pharmacological agents as treatment, the exception being for mental health disorders. If a person whose substance abuse problem is caused by depression, treating depression can result in a reduction of substance abuse.
According to the Health Officer’s Council of British Columbia, 47,000 Canadians die of substance abuse each year. Healthcare practitioners have the opportunity to advocate on behalf of their patients to ensure they can all benefit from treatment services directed towards effective interventions (Leslie, 2008). Together, we can identify at-risk youth and help them overcome their addiction.