What is Adolescent Substance Abuse?

Tara Barnett

Adolescent substance abuse is misuse of a substance by a young person. Even substances that would be considered legal and acceptable when used by adults, such as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol in the United States may be considered aberrant and inappropriate when used by children. The age at which a substance becomes appropriate varies by country, and the use of some substances is always considered abusive no matter the age of the user. Adolescent substance abuse is highly defined by the culture in which the abuse is occurring, and many cultures have different attitudes concerning what constitutes appropriate substance use by adolescents.

Young people can become addicted and abuse certain pills and other legal and illegal substances.
Young people can become addicted and abuse certain pills and other legal and illegal substances.

Many times, adolescent substance abuse is simply use of an otherwise legal substance by someone underage by law. Sometimes, because the substance is consumed secretively and without proper knowledge, this results in serious illness or poisoning. Common substances that are abused this way include alcohol, cigarettes, and, in some countries, marijuana.

Behavior problems can be a sign of teen substance abuse.
Behavior problems can be a sign of teen substance abuse.

Prescription drugs, which are intended only to be taken when prescribed by a doctor, can also be consumed by adolescents with the intention of achieving an altered experience. These drugs may be prescribed either to the child or to someone else, and either given to the child or stolen. A wide variety of drugs may be taken to achieve a desirable effect, and particularly popular drugs include those intended for Attention Deficit Disorder and those intended for pain. Improper consumption of drugs that do not change a person's mental state, such as antibiotics or birth control pills, is usually not considered adolescent substance abuse, although this is also not healthy behavior.

Adolescents may become drug abusers by taking too much of a medication prescribed for a sports injury.
Adolescents may become drug abusers by taking too much of a medication prescribed for a sports injury.

Some substances that adolescents have been known to abuse are common in households such as paint thinner, rubber glue, or whipped cream chargers. There are also over-the-counter medications, such as some cough syrups, which can be consumed in quantities that will make the user experience a desirable high. These substances are popular because they are often less expensive than other drugs and easy to obtain from many stores.

Although legal for adults, the use of tobacco by adolescents is often considered a form of substance abuse.
Although legal for adults, the use of tobacco by adolescents is often considered a form of substance abuse.

Of course, illegal drugs can also be candidates for adolescent substance abuse. Any drug that can be abused by an adult, including drugs such as heroin or cocaine, can be obtained and abused by children. This is particularly dangerous, because a small amount of these drugs can kill children, and they can also cause growth problems.

Any drug that can be abused by an adult, including heroin, can be abused by an adolescent.
Any drug that can be abused by an adult, including heroin, can be abused by an adolescent.

There are many resources for dealing with adolescent substance abuse. The benefit of catching a child abusing drugs rather than an adult is that a child can be forcefully dealt with and put into rehab, whereas an adult, in most cases, has the right to avoid treatment. Adolescents who abuse drugs are often dealing with other issues, and a good way to stop the substance abuse is to help the child with those other problems.

Counseling may be needed for adolescents to overcome a substance abuse problem.
Counseling may be needed for adolescents to overcome a substance abuse problem.

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