Prevention and Treatment of Drug Abuse in Teens

Prevention and Treatment of Drug Abuse in Teens

What do you do with teens struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol? Even though national trends may show a decline in substance abuse or dependence issues, specific counties demonstrate that some areas still have high levels of teenagers abusing substances. Drug and Alcohol Abuse Week is right around the corner, bringing awareness and resources that may assist counselors and abuse treatment professionals as they attempt to support various populations affected by substance abuse. When it comes to teens, how can you help prevent and treat substance abuse?


A few precautionary steps can help parents, educators and healthcare professionals support the development of healthy and drug-free children. “Fitting in” is a major reason why many teens report getting involved in drugs. Teens may turn to drugs or other substances out of social loneliness. Appropriate and healthy peer relationships can steer children away from illicit drug and alcohol abuse and into constructive activities that are healthy for the mind, body and spirit.

Unguarded substances in the home, such as prescription drugs, appear to be a draw for teens. Professionals should suggest that adults in the household keep prescription drugs away from children. Drugs should be securely stored away and tracked. Any pills not needed should not be kept at the house. Remove the invitation that the availability of prescription drugs can provide.

Children and teens need attention. Children who are performing poorly in school and who have not found an outlet in sport activities or the arts may have a higher likelihood of turning to drugs to handle feelings of low self-esteem or an inferiority complex. Children are also more likely to use drugs when parents smoke or drink around them. Modeling the behavior desired in children is an important way parents can influence their children’s beliefs and actions. According to a comprehensive survey, while close to 2 million children, ranging from 12 to 17 years of age, do drugs, only 150,000 receive medical care. When we look at alcohol, cigarette and illicit drug use in teens from 1992–2012, we see a general decline in the use of alcohol and cigarettes among eigth graders, 10th graders and 12th graders. However, a general increase in the use of illicit drugs has occurred during the same period. In 1992, 14 percent of teenagers surveyed used illicit drugs in the past 30 days. In 2012, that percentage had risen to approximately 25 percent. In addition, findings from this two-decade period show:

  • Marijuana takes the top place for abused substances by 12th graders, followed by prescription and OTC medications;
  • Marijuana (36.4%), Adderall (7.6%), Vicodin (7.5%) are in the lead; and
  • Cold medicines (5.6%) and tranquilizers (5.3%) run close behind.

School counselors and abuse treatment professionals, as well as parents and educators, should be aware of the substances commonly abused by teenagers and how easy it may be for some teenagers to access the prescription drug or illicit substance of choice. A 2016 study reported by Reuters underscores the finding that the use of cannabis continues to be an issue among high school seniors:

“22.5 percent [said] that they had smoked or ingested the drug at least once within the past month… 6 percent reporting daily use.”

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, stated:

“Clearly, our public health prevention efforts, as well as policy changes to reduce availability, are working to reduce teen drug use, especially among eighth graders. However, when 6 percent of high school seniors are using marijuana daily, and new synthetics are continually flooding the illegal marketplace, we cannot be complacent.”

Reducing access to illicit and prescription drugs and continual education on the topic appear to have helped decrease teen drug abuse, but more work needs to be done.


Parents of teens with a drug or alcohol abuse problem should be aware of the very real danger of a drug overdose. Overdose is currently the number one reason for accidental deaths in the U.S. Some 7,000 teens visit emergency departments, and nearly 30 teens die daily from a drug overdose. An accidental or intentional overdose (OD) can occur when the amount of drugs taken is higher than medically recommended, as it applies to prescription drugs. Parents and individuals who are concerned that a child has overdosed should immediately call 911 and Poison Control at 800-222-1222 for advice. Present any leftover drugs to an attending physician, and do not attempt to induce vomiting.

The type of drug or combination ingested may greatly impact how the OD is medically treated. Sedative overdoses are more dangerous than stimulant overdoses, as sedative overdoses, when combined with alcohol, can suppress the ability to breathe and slow brain function. Chest pumping and charcoal agents may be recommended to reverse the effects of sedative substances. Blue nails and lips and intense muscle spasms may mark an opioid or painkiller overdose. A lack of coordination, trouble breathing or color changes are signs that require attention. Medical personnel may administer naloxone to reverse the effects of the opiate.

To find a local substance abuse treatment facility, individuals may call 1-800-662-HELP, or visit The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and the Affordable Care Act help individuals receive needed medical and surgical benefits; “substance abuse disorder” is included in the categories of the 10 essential health benefits. Teens can find help in support group therapy. Consider groups affiliated with Cocaine Anonymous (CA), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Teen-Anon (TA). Another good resource is Preventing Drug Abuse Among Children and Adolescents from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Healthcare professionals, counselors, abuse treatment professionals, educators and families need to stay abreast of how to best serve effected teenagers. Explore the wide range of resources available and become a true support to effected teenagers and their families in your local community.


Lisa DiFalco is a leading writer for wellness and education. She has helped manage cases directly at halfway houses before extensive careers in education and wellness. She is passionate about vital issues and supports community improvement efforts.

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