Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Understanding Adolescent Substance Abuse: Prevalence, Risk Factors, and Clinical Implications

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Understanding Adolescent Substance Abuse: Prevalence, Risk Factors, and Clinical Implications

Article excerpt

Adolescence is an important developmental period for young people. They are faced with a number of challenges, including gaining a greater sense of independence, strengthening relationships with peer groups, and planning future career goals, during this period of their lives. In addition, one of the many challenges that adolescents face in the United States is the decision about whether to use substances. Although some experimentation with substances is typical for many young people, fortunately most adolescents who experiment with drugs do not go on to develop substance abuse problems later in life (Newcomb, 1995; Shelder & Block, 1990). A small portion of adolescents, however, do develop problems with substances that substantially affect their development and future adult lives. The purpose of this article is to describe the prevalence of adolescent substance use, the associated risk of developing a substance abuse problem and the protective factors that militate against developing this type of problem, and the four key clinical areas for counselors to consider when working with adolescents with substance abuse problems. For purposes of this article, the terms substances and drugs are used interchangeably.

* Prevalence of Adolescent Substance Use and Abuse

Most adolescents are exposed to substances (e.g., alcohol, marijuana) at some point in their young lives and subsequently make decisions about their use of them. One important source of information on the prevalence of adolescent substance use comes from the Monitoring the Future National Results on Adolescent Drug Use: Overview of Findings, 2002 (MTF) study (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman, 2003). MTF is a longitudinal research project that has consistently collected data on the reported use of substances in national samples of adolescents since 1975, and the data from the MTF provide a reasonable picture of the level of substance use for adolescents across the United States. Data from the 2002 MTF report, based on a nationally representative sample of more than 43,000 adolescents in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades, are presented in Figures 1 and 2. As can be seen in the figures, alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana were the most frequently reported drugs used by adolescents in each grade. More specifically, Figure 1 presents data for adolescents who reported at least a one-time use of a specific drug during their lifetime. The data on lifetime use provide an estimate of the number of adolescents who have experimented with a particular substance. Figure 2 presents data for adolescents who reported using a specific substance in the past 30 days. The data for the past 30 days provide an estimate of the number of frequent users of a particular substance. Alcohol was reported as being the most used substance across all adolescents in the sample. For example, more than 70% of adolescents in the 12th grade reported having used alcohol in their lifetime, and almost 50% reported using alcohol in the past month. The above data clearly indicate that many adolescents report an experimental use of certain substances; however, a much smaller percentage report frequent use of substances (Johnston et al., 2003).

[FIGURES 1-2 OMITTED]

Smaller percentages of adolescents report current use or abuse, or both, of substances as indicated by data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration [SAMHSA], 2003b). The 2002 NSDUH included a sample of 68,126 individuals ages 12 and older in the United States, and data from this survey are used to provide national prevalence estimates on drug-related behaviors. For example, 11.6% of adolescents ages 12 to 17 years were estimated to be current (i.e., use within the past month) illicit drug users in 2002 (SAMHSA, 2003b). Furthermore, 8.9% of this age group could be classified with a diagnosis of substance abuse or dependence based on criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed. …

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