Teen Risk Factors for Becoming Involved in Substance Abuse

j0178822Why do some teens get involved in substance abuse while others do not? Many parents ponder this question as their children become teenagers. What causes a teen to be pressured or influenced into making poor decisions? What factors increase the risks that a youth will smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or use drugs?

Fortunately, we have some answers that can help. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University has been conducting an annual survey, known as “The National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse,” since 1995, to try to identify characteristics, situations and circumstances that increase the risk of youth substance abuse. With 18 years of research, some trends have emerged that have allowed CASA to identify information that can help parents:

Factors that Increase Risk of Substance Abuse

While there are many factors that can lead a teen to substance abuse, CASA’s survey showed that the most common were boredom, high stress, and too much money. Here are the specific results from CASA:

  • Highly stressed teens are twice as likely to smoke, get drunk, and/or use illegal drugs. (They are also three times as likely to use marijuana.)
  • Teens who report that they are frequently bored are 50% more likely to smoke, get drunk, and/or use illegal drugs.
  • Teens with $25 or more per week in spending money are twice as likely to smoke, get drunk, and/or use illegal drugs.
  • Teens with two of the above factors (stressed with too much money, or bored with too much money, or stressed and bored) are more than three times likely to become substance abusers.
  • Teens who are sometimes left home alone overnight without adult supervision are more likely to be substance abusers, compared to teens who are never left home alone at night. They are:
    • Twice as likely to have used marijuana
    • Almost twice as likely to have used alcohol
    • Nearly three times as likely to have used tobacco
  • Teens who have seen pictures on social networking sites of other kids getting drunk or using drugs are more likely to become involved in substance abuse themselves. They are:
  • Teens who experience cyber bullying are more than twice as likely to smoke, drink, or use marijuana.


Factors that Reduce Risk of Substance Abuse

  • Teens who attend religious services at least once a week are at a significantly lower risk of becoming involved in substance abuse.
  • Teens who say their parents would be “extremely upset” to find out they smoked, drank or used marijuana were much less likely to use substances themselves or to think it is okay for their peers to use them. The surveys also show that it is important for both parents to be sending the same, consistent, unified message to their teens about substance abuse.
  • Parental involvement in their teen’s life also had a significant impact on reducing the risk of substance abuse.


Youth Begin Early

CASA survey results found that the age youth begin abusing substances is much earlier than parents expect:

  • Average age of first use of alcohol is 12 years, 2 months.
  • Average age of first smoking cigarettes is 12 years, 6 months.
  • Average age of first use of marijuana is 13 years, 11 months.

Interestingly, a new study from Michigan State University is showing that girls are now drinking their first alcoholic drinks before boys, despite the fact that boys were historically the first to start using alcohol.

Ways Parents Can Reduce Risk

As a result of this research, CASA has identified five ways that parents can reduce the possibility that their children will smoke, get drunk or use illegal drugs before age 21:

  • Be sensitive to the stress in teens’ lives and help them cope.
  • Understand when and why teens are bored and help relieve their boredom.
  • Limit the amount of money teens have to spend and monitor how that money is spent.
  • Know who your teen’s friends are.
  • Be engaged in your children’s lives. CASA suggests that parents help teens with their homework, attend their extra-curricular events, plan activities to do together, and talk to them about drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

Leave a Reply