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    Adversity in Adolescence 

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    Adolescence is a period of time where youth are beginning to mature mentally and physically. Teenagers start to try and “find themselves”, typically straying away from their parents in order to make their own decisions and mistakes.

    Adolescence is a time of development and lessons. With making mistakes and learning, problems can emerge during this period. Substance use is very common in adolescents and must be caught in order to protect them and so it does not exceed into adulthood. Parents and children must work together to better the life of the child and better the relationship of the family unit.

    To being with, there are four general principles about problems in adolescents according to Steinberg. The first principle is that not all problems with an individual began in adolescence. Many mental issues can be the result from a childhood trauma. Another principle is that problems refelt transitory experimentation.

    For example, many teenagers break the law but there are few who have been caught and received a criminal charge. The third principle is that most problems in adolescence does not continue into adulthood. An example of this idea is that teens who develop eating disorders at a young age will typically beat the sickness and have normal eating habits as an adult.

    The last principal is that, “Problems during adolescence are not biologically rooted or caused by the normative changes of adolescence”(Steinberg, L.). This means that problems are not passed down genetically or are a normative thing that every teen will go through. Though every team will most likely have some sort of problem, it is different for everyone.

    Depression is a mental problem that many teens face but that does not mean every child should prepare themselves for the unavoidable illness nor should it be explained as a normal part of growing up.

    Additionally, there are three categories of psychosocial problems teenagers typically can deal with: internalizing disorders, externalizing disorders and substance abuse. Internalizing disorders are inward mental problems that cause emotional and cognitive distress. Some examples of this type of disorder include depression, anxiety, withdrawal, etc. Externalizing disorders are outward problems that affect one’s behavior.

    Examples of externalizing behaviors include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and conduct disorder (CD). Substance abuse is the overuse of legal and illegal drugs. Abusing of drugs typically happens when an individual has co-occuring issues. This can be noted as the problem behavior syndrome (PBS). As once stated, “Problem-Behavior Theory defines problem-behavior as any behavior that causes issues or is seen by society as undesirable, usually causing some sort of negative response” (White, L.).

    Combining issues like externalizing disorders and substance abuse can increase problem behavior syndrome in adolescents. Various ideas explain why PBS happens. Problem clusters occur when one behavior leads to another behavior which causes cascading effects. The book uses the example that externalizing childhood issues can cause low academic success which can then lead to internalizing disorders as an adult (Steinberg, L.).

    Social control theory believes that strong bonds with family, school, work, etc. is extremely important to the development of external behavior. Lack of the bonds can cause rebellious behavior in youth. Though these theories are likely, they are not direct answers as to why problem behavior syndrome occurs.

    The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Five) associates ten different classes of drugs as having the ability to cause substance abuse (Hartney, E., & Gans, S.). These include: alcohol, caffeine, cannabis, hallucinogens, inhalants, opioids, sedatives, hypnotics, stimulants, tobacco (Hartney, E., & Gans, S.). There are four main types of drugs; hallungines, stimulants, opioids and depressants.

    Hallucinogens recognized by the DSM-5 include LSD and inhalants. Some stimulants include adderall, caffeine, ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana. Examples of depressants include tobacco, xanax and alcohol. Opioids include morphine, oxycodone, methadone and hydrocodone. Adolescents are most likely to use alcohol, tobacco and marijuana but it difference between ages.

    According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Young adolescents tend to favor inhalant substances (such as breathing the fumes of household cleaners, glues, or pens..), whereas older teens are more likely to use synthetic marijuana (“K2” or “Spice”) and prescription medications”(NIDA). Common prescription drugs used by adolescents include adderall and oxycodone because they are easily obtained.

    Many children and teens are prescribed adderall to help with learning and focusing disadvantages caused by ADHD and ADD. This pills are often sold to classmates and friends, some use it to help study for exams but others abuse the drug. Oxycodone is a pain relieving drug that is often prescribed after athletic injuries, surgery or wisdom teeth removal. Without proper supervision, these drug can be distributed and sold without knowledge from parents and guardians.

    Prolonged drug and alcohol use could have detrimental consequences on an adolescent. Everyone reacts to drugs/alcohol differently due to biological, environmental and situational factors. Some people are more prone to addiction than others. Childhood traumas are a huge increasing factor in substance abuse because it can help aid the individual by giving them an unhealthy coping mechanism for their trauma.

    Addiction is a possible consequence and risk factor after repeated drug use. Addiction occurs when the individual’s brain is chemically dependent on the use of the drug. As once stated, “The transition from voluntary to compulsive drug use reflects changes in the brain’s natural inhibition and reward centers that keep a person from exerting control over the impulse to use drugs even when there are negative consequences—the defining characteristic of addiction” (NIDA).

    An individual knows the drug use is not healthy for them but due to their brains urges they continue to use the drug in order to “get the fix”. The drug use starts to affect their daily lives negatively to a point where they can no longer function properly. Teens can began to perform poorly academically and athletically and start to miss school and athletic events in order to use their preferred drug.

    Without proper treatment drug use can cause many long term effects like heart disease, cancer, mental illnesses and death. Drug use also impair decision making, increase violence, increase risk taking, and increase communicable diseases (like HIV from needles). Different drugs can have varying risk factors for individuals.

    Prevention of drug use in the youth must be done tactfully in order for the message to be clear and taken seriously. Many prevention programs are unsuccessful because they were exaggerating the effects of drug use and not focusing on the honest facts and statistics. A popular organization, D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), used the “Just say no” approach on the youth in order to try and convince them that it is easily to just resist drugs and not partake in them which is unlikely.

    A more effective group in preventing drug use in youth is Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). They present youth with facts on drug use and help fight for fair laws related to drug use and its effect on people. Some of the works DPA does is fight laws to keep families together, real drug education in high schools by using science, providing financial aid for students charge with drug crimes in order to better their lives and providing youth with services at parties that could save lives for people affected by drugs and alcohol (Protecting Youth).

    Instead of trying to force youth to be drug abstinent they educate them on the facts so youth try an avoid them but also ways to protect themselves and others if they come in contact with drugs and alcohol.

    Effective treatment programs can be hard to pinpoint because every individual requires different needs and wants. Rehabilitation centers can specialize in certain trauma victims or in certain drug choices. It is important to research treatment plans of different rehabs, by doing so it could appeal to the substance user and make them more comfortable since most users are nervous about getting treatment.

    Most people do not get addicted to drugs without an underlying issue causing them to want to keep using. As once stated, “To be effective, treatment must address the individual’s drug abuse and any associated medical, psychological, social, vocational, and legal problems” (National Institute on Drug Abuse). Proper treatment can help a user get over underlying issues and learn better coping mechanisms in order to deal with their problems. Learning better methods will help prevent future drug use as well.

    Different types of therapy must be decided based on the individuals personality, age, culture, etc. Popular behavioral therapy methods include one on one counseling, group counseling and family counseling. Discussing trauma and problems and obtaining rewards for progression helps encourage participants to build strength and self esteem.

    Another huge factor, besides getting through problems and developing new coping strategies is withdrawal. Due to the brains chemically becoming dependant on the drug, stopping usage of the drug can be very unpleasant and painful. Withdrawal symptoms include dizziness, nausea, sweating, insomnia, muscle tension, etc. (Melemis, S.). Some treatment centers use medications in order to wean users off drugs because it can be too dangerous to completely stop, this is called detoxing.

    Some popular medications used are methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine (National Institute on Drug Abuse). Not every user needs assistance of medication in order to stop using drugs. It mainly depends on the drug used and how long the user has been abusing the drugs. Alcohol and tranquilizers are of the hardest and most painful drugs to stop using (Melemis, S.). Often times, many people do not stop using drugs due to the withdrawal symptoms. The rehabilitation center must show the client immense support during these early stages of treatment.

    Drug use has many misconceptions that the youth and even adults are unaware of. A popular myth that many people believe is that marijuana is not addictive. As once stated, “Estimates from research suggest that about 9 percent of users become addicted to marijuana; this number increases among those who start young (to about 17 percent, or 1 in 6) and among daily users (to 25–50 percent)”(National Institute on Drug Abuse).

    If adolescents start using cannabis at a young age and use it frequently it is possible to become dependent on the drug. Marijuana can have withdrawal side effects like fatigue, irritability, lacking of appetite, etc. Though marijuana is becoming legal in many states all over America for medical use as well as recreational, youth using the drug too often can have a multitude of negative effects. Marijuana lowers IQ scores, slows brain development, and impair motor functions (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

    Combining usage of marijuana and alcohol will increase the risk of these consequences for youth. Some younger adolescents inhale household products in order to get high because they are easily obtainable. Many teens believe this act is not harmful because the high is very short. Inhaling drugs can cause suffocation, vomiting, and even heart failure as known as “sudden sniffing death” (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

    Just like many other drugs for youth, this curiosity could cause the want to search for other ways to achieve a high. This is why many drugs like inhalants, marijuana and alcohol are labeled as “gateway” drugs. They can lead the way for more experimental drug use.

    Furthermore, to protect youth from the use and dangers of drugs school systems must educate adolescents as well as watch for warning signs. Parents must pay attention when their child has large amounts of unexplained money, mood changes, suspicious manners, continuation of lying, self-harm, lack of remorse, and aggression (Crosswinds).

    If the child has been a victim of mental, physical, emotional or sexual abuse it is vital to get proper therapy or guidance in order to help the child heal. These are common triggers of drug misuse in adolescents. Confronting adolescents is important for parents to do but it must be done in a respectable manner. You should not accuse a child of drug use even if there is proper evidence like drug paraphernalia.

    This can cause a hostile confrontation and can lead to lack of trust between both child and parent. Setting consequences is needed but understanding why the child is using drugs is also very important. Talking about risk factors, drug use in the family, consequences and setting goals can build trust and help the teen stray away from drug use (Partnership for Drug-Free Kids). Pay attention to children’s habits at home in school in order to protect them in the future.

    Overall, teenagers will make decisions throughout the years that will most likely go against parents wishes and wants. Though they are not always good or healthy, mistakes are needed in order for one to grow and mature into adulthood. Problems can come in various forms whether it be mental, emotional, or physical. Not all problems are long lasting or carrying into adulthood but without treatment other issues can be harmful. It is up to parents and children to address issues to prepare them for the future ahead.


    1. Crosswinds. (n.d.). Troubled Teen Warning Signs | Crosswinds Youth. Retrieved from x_P0lYuP3wIVRECGCh31sguJEAAYAiAAEgJoA_D_BwE
    2. Hartney, E., & Gans, S. (2018, September 26). What Are Some Criteria for Substance Use Disorders? Retrieved from
    3. NIDA. (2014, January 14). Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide. Retrieved from atment-research-based-guide on 2018, December 5
    4. Melemis, S. (n.d.). Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms| Addictions and Recovery. Retrieved from
    5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Is it possible for teens to become addicted to marijuana? Retrieved from
    6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Principles of Effective Treatment. Retrieved from Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. (n.d.). Prepare to Take Action if You Suspect Teen or Young Adult Drug Use. Retrieved from

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