Adolescent Substance Use in the U.S.: Facts for Policymakers
Adolescence is an important period of physical, social, psychological, and cognitive growth. No longer children and not yet adults, adolescents make significant choices about their health and develop attitudes and health behaviors that continue into adulthood. Substance use disorders among adolescents can impede the attainment of important developmental milestones, including the development of autonomy, the formation of intimate interpersonal relationships, and general integration into adult society. Similarly, the use of alcohol and illicit substances by youth often leads to adverse health outcomes. Because heightened peer influence and a tendency towards risk taking are normal developmental changes in adolescence, experimentation with substances during this period is common. However, using drugs and alcohol at a young age increases the risk of dependency and addiction, and early onset of drinking increases the likelihood of alcohol-related injuries, motor vehicle crash involvement, unprotected intercourse, and interpersonal violence. The more risk an adolescent is exposed to, the more likely it is he or she will abuse substances. Some risk factors, such as peer influence, may be more powerful during adolescence, and likewise some protective factors, such as a strong sense of school belonging and a meaningful positive adult presence, can have a greater positive impact during this period. An important goal of substance abuse prevention is to reduce risk and increase protective factors in the lives of all adolescents, and particularly among disadvantaged youth.
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