An Overview of Risk Factors for Adolescent Substance Use

The United States has been experiencing an addiction epidemic for more than a decade now research shows from the Center for Disease Control, and the numbers only continue to rise with each passing year, for adolescents as well. 

Mental health issues continue to become more and more prevalent in America, leading to a rise in prescribed legal drugs rising at a rapid rate, opening the door for abuse. Illegal drugs also run rampant in our country, with fentanyl overdoses and other hard drug-related issues spiked in recent years, also among the adolescent population.

Having easier access to drugs is just one part of the picture, though — there are plenty of other risk factors among adolescents for substance abuse that exist, some of which aren’t always obvious, and that’s what we’re going to discuss here today.

Risk factors for substance abuse

Risk factors are different components of our lives that increase the likelihood of developing a disease or disorder. With substance abuse specifically, risk factors are variables that make a person particularly vulnerable to developing a substance use disorder or addiction.

For adolescents in particular, there are a few risk factors that are especially prevalent:

1. Family risk factors

Who we become is largely dictated by the familial relationships and environment we grew up in. This doesn’t mean we can’t change later on—for many of us, evolving is necessary as we heal from toxic generational beliefs and cycles—but it does mean that without the conscious decision to change, we can become “stuck” in those family-sourced behaviors.

Some adolescents may witness a parent using drugs or alcohol and that triggers their curiosity, bringing to question if a parent is using it why shouldn’t they? While others may be lacking the proper support at home, or dealing with unstable conditions within their home in general — abuse, no guidance or true supervision, etc.

2. Social risk factors

It’s no shock that the middle school and high school years can be rough. Between all of the significant mental, emotional and physical developments, adolescents are in one of the most vulnerable phases of their lives during this time in their lives. It could be the at-school stressors of “not fitting in” or pressure applied to oneself to succeed at a high level.

Social risk factors include:

  • Lack of healthy peer groups or engagement
  • Negative teacher expectations
  • Lack of effort from teachers
  • Misaligned or blatantly contradictory school and family values
  • Extreme poverty
  • Peer rejection
  • And more

The adolescent years in school can bring about a slew of social risk factors that can lead a teen to substance use.

3. Individual risk factors

The third most common risk factor for adolescent substance abuse is the individual one. This almost always plays a role in the development or exacerbation of a substance use disorder, as personal risk factors are often some of the most intense and seemingly out of our control.

Take genetics, for example. If addiction is common in your family, that might suggest there is a genetic mental or chemical element within your family that makes individuals particularly vulnerable to developing an addiction. While the treat is there, that doesn’t mean they’re doomed to develop one.

Other individual risk factors would be the state of mental health, other existing disorders or conditions, behavior or impulse control issues, as well as high levels of stress and anxiety.

When left unaddressed, substance abuse can not only lead to the development of additional diseases and illnesses but in the worst cases, can lead to overdose or even death. This isn’t to scare you, but to make you blatantly aware of how serious addiction is and can be to not just adolescents.

If you suspect your child has developed a substance use disorder, or you think they may be using illicit substances and aren’t sure how to approach them about it, send us a message.

Speak with an advisor today

Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling specializes in offering top-tier mental health clinical services, counseling, substance use and alcohol recovery services. Whatever you need, we meet you where you are — you’re never alone when you work with our team.

To speak with one of our qualified advisors and identify the safest and most effective recovery plan for your child, send us a message.