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Youth Health Issue: Substance Abuse

Adolescent and teenage substance abuse could have a significant influence on their health and well-being. In contrast, it is easy to recognize the apparent risks of nicotine, drug, and alcohol use, such as the potential for negative consequences like personal injury, car accidents, and addiction. However, there are also less apparent implications of substance abuse, such as the developmental issues affecting the teenage brain. Thus, in the same way, it is necessary to recognize the adverse consequences that a mother’s drinking or smoking can have on the growing fetus, it is crucial to acknowledge the risks to brain development as related to substance abuse.

Ranging from mood swings to rebellion, many types of challenging teen behavior are normal in their years; however, experimenting with the use of substances is not one of them. It is necessary to rethink the perception of norms when it comes to identifying normal behaviors and excuses that some make for substance use, such as “everyone vapes” or “everyone drinks.” Considering that, there is a variety of common teenage experiences and external stressors that can be used for excusing or giving reasons for substance abuse. The first example is the desire to fit in and be liked by others. If there is a teenage group that one wants to fit in drinks or uses substances, the latter may feel the need to participate to avoid being left out. Thus, some teens will use substances as a path to making friends. Another example is dealing with emotional and psychological pain caused by family issues, stress, or trauma, with substance use allowing to dull the pain. Low self-esteem, depression, anxiety disorder, and other mental health issues have been commonly associated with teen substance use.

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The efforts of the National Institute on Drug Abuse should be considered in terms of screening and assessment of teen drug abuse. Screening to Brief Intervention (S2BI) and Brief Screener for Tobacco, Alcohol, and Other Drugs (BSTAD) (NIH, 2019). Both methods are scientifically validated and easy to administer by healthcare providers while also including the need for follow-up with patients. Stressors associated with teenage substance use screening are concerned with the challenge of admitting to using substances. As suggested by NIH (2014), less than one-third of adolescents would admit to undergoing treatment for substance abuse as well as other mental challenges. This calls for additional considerations for ethical dilemmas. During the screening and assessment, the provider will discuss with the patient the limitations of their therapeutic relations, confidentiality, and informed consent. Because of the need to get teenagers on the side of their healthcare providers, it is important to negotiate the limitations of confidentiality and the involvement of parents.

Support options for teenagers struggling with substance use include behavioral therapy, family-based approaches, addiction medication, as well as recovery support services. For instance, behavioral techniques allow addressing the external stressors. Such approaches enable teenagers and their parents or caregivers to improve their overall communication and interactions, as well as improve life skills essential for handling stressful situations and managing the external cues that may trigger a severe desire for drugs. Specific methods include the Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Contingency Management, Motivational Enhancement Therapy, and others (NIH, 2014). Therefore, depending on the needs of teenagers, support options intended to aid them in overcoming substance abuse are varied.