Other Youth Topics

Substance Abuse Prevention

Youth with the words DRUG FREE written on knuckles

Substance abuse and problematic patterns of substance use among youth can lead to problems at school, cause or aggravate physical and mental health-related issues, promote poor peer relationships, cause motor-vehicle accidents, and place stress on the family. They can also develop into lifelong issues such as substance dependence, chronic health problems, and social and financial consequences.1

Substance abuse is the harmful pattern of using substances—such as tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription drugs—leading to impairment or distress with one or more of the following behaviors: 

  • Recurrent substance use resulting in failure to fulfill major responsibilities at work, school, or home such as repeated absences, suspension, and expulsion
  • Recurrent substance use in situations where it is physically dangerous, such as driving while impaired
  • Recurrent substance-related legal problems, such as arrests for disorderly conduct that are substance-related
  • Continued substance use despite having persistent or recurring social or personal problems caused or worsened by substance use2

One of the most highly abused substances among youth in the U.S. is alcohol.3 Youth engage in binge drinking, a pattern of drinking that elevates the blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 percent or above, more than adults do.4 This can lead to risky and potentially harmful behaviors, and many times substance abuse (60-75 percent of youth with substance abuse problems) co-occurs with mental health disorders.

Substance use, abuse, and dependence can negatively impact every aspect of an individual’s life. Child-serving systems need to intervene early in the lives of youth to prevent or treat abuse, support young people, and provide them with the tools to choose the right path.

1 Department of Justice, 1998
2 American Psychiatric Association, 2000
3 Johnston, O’Malley, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2012
4 For the typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming five or more drinks [men], or four or more drinks [women], in about 2 hours.

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