Trends in Adolescent Substance Use

Literature Review

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Trends in Adolescent Substance Use


Substance use is a problem that governments are struggling to manage. Adolescents form an important part of a country’s future, yet substance abuse are almost defining their identity in the society. Studies have indicated that some adolescent between the ages of 7-12 are already experimenting on drugs available within their reach. Inhaling substances like glues, kitchen fumes from household cleaners among other light object are a common practice in adolescents. It is important that parents, family, and other stakeholders like the social department are committed to manage the effects of the substance exposure among adolescents before progressing to other hard drugs, including marijuana.  It is equally necessary that knowledge and information is built on the emerging new trends in the marketing platform to prevent negative influence and early exposure to substance use. This literature review discusses aspects of the adolescent substance encounter and the challenges experienced by parents in managing the adolescent drug abuse situations within the society.

Perceptions of Risk Situations

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The general perception of adolescents about substance influences their susceptibility to abuse. Positive youth guidance and development sessions are some of the models, reducing potential risks to the first exposure of substance use (Ciocanel, Power, Eriksen, & Gillings, 2017). The perception of the risk associated with substance use carries a level of importance in the determinations of whether an adolescent is involved in substance abuse or not (Ciocanel et al., 2017). Majority of adolescents who are exposed to information on the risks associated with substance use are likely to delay the exposure compared to those with low or no information disclosures (Zhai, Yip, Steinberg, Wampler, Hoff, Krishnan-Sarin, & Potenza, 2017). Similarly, Chapman and Rokutani (2005) propose that various ages should be exposed to knowledge about the risk associated with substance abuse to ensure a delayed or zero exposure to substance use. Therefore, it becomes imperative for public health providers and other social organizations to offer accurate, credible, and age-appropriate packaged information to the young people. Zhai et al. (2017) concur to the aspect of dissemination of information, but suggest the adjustment to the emerging trends with regard to delivery channels, citing the dynamic content relevant to the young adolescents and middle age teens due to their technological biases.

Independence from Parents

Adolescents struggle for independence from the parents as they gain popularity and recognition within their peers. While some exposure to substance abuse in adolescent has been attributed to parental influences, Mayberry, Espelage, and Koenig (2009) are among the social and psychological researchers who confirm that majority of parent addicts tend to protect their adolescents from substance use. The fact that adolescents struggle for independence from parents improves their susceptibility to abusing drugs and substance (Mayberry, Espelage, & Koenig, 2009). However, Mayberry, Espelage, and Koenig (2009) further explains that such quest for freedom when viewed as a developmental trend in adolescent, should be allowed within guided parameters that ensure responsible behavioral approaches to protect on juvenile delinquent practices. Several trends in the society among adolescents have been defined by epidemiological studies as having specific origins from racial-ethnocultural or behavioral contexts of the society they are brought up (Gil, Wagner, & Tubman, 2004). This argument brings a new paradigm in substance use given that some adolescents with the potential of substance use have origins pointed to their cultural practices and beliefs. The obligations of parents in managing the impacts of these trends suffer limitations and capacity issues. Gil, Wagner, and Tubman (2004) agree that parental failures have been the basis of such improved substance use among adolescent children.

Acceptance and Popularity among Peers

Acceptability among adolescent peer groups according to Johnston, O’Malley, Bachman, and Schulenberg (2012) is defined by the level of risk taking abilities one is capable of undertaking.  Several empirical studies have attributed this fact to the longevity of the developmental period between young adolescents and the puberty stages with regards to decision making and capability progress. Social and psychological scientists believe that the propensity to exploit newer and potentially unsafe scenarios among young people coincides with their objective to create an independent world. Every young person seeks to create his/her own rules and an atmosphere with absolute control. This creates a level of freedom that leads to experimental life that in most cases involves potentially dangerous substances.

On the other hand, adolescents tend to believe more in the decisions of their peers compared to those from their parents, relatives, or teachers, and other social service providers, including religious or opinion leaders (Boeri, Gardner, Gerken, Ross, & Wheeler, 2016). Therefore, risk-taking becomes a part of their engagement where risk takers are viewed as heroes and heroines. The influence of music and culture among the adolescents is a matter that requires closer observations. The hip-hop music culture in the United States is, for instance, developed to promote public use of drugs and other socially unacceptable behaviors (Substance, 2016). An adolescent who prefers the hip-hop genre tends to embrace such cultures and practices displayed in the music videos and start harboring early encounter with substance in the quest to conform to the practices of the genre. Although parents have a responsibility to closely monitor the genre of music loved by the adolescents, the initiative has often escaped their attention. It is important that parent understand the nature of music and the practice within such cultures in order to provide strategic and timely advice to adolescents.

Adolescents who are experimenting with alcohol for the first time carry effects that involve impulsive behavioral aspects. The influence of experimenting with alcohol and other substance is controlled from the perceptions of the adolescent. Although peer groups play a role in influencing behavior approaches, perceptions play a major role in accelerating the preliminary exposure to substance use. Verhoef et al. (2014) assert that adolescents who have positive expectations about alcohol are likely to engage in alcohol or substance abuse compared to the those holding opposing reservations.

The role of peers, therefore, acts as a mere catalyst to the principal and foundation of ideologies harbored by such adolescents. The current concern is the responsibility of building such foundations to ensure that the quality of thought and positive decision making is developed among adolescents to avoid early exposure to substance use. Whereas it may be difficult to apportion responsibility for effective decision-making systems within adolescents, of essence is the fact that all social formations from family to religious leaders, government departments to social or psychological professionals are accountable to adolescent’s degrading behavior. However, the decision to develop stronger foundations, opinions, and ideologies are influenced by the intrinsic or extrinsic values under the control of the same adolescent (Johnston et al., 2012). Therefore, parents and family relations play a pivotal role in developing intrinsic and extrinsic values that guide effective decision processes among the adolescents.

The variances in the brain functionality of the adolescent explain their susceptibility to consume higher capacities of substances compared to the adult counterparts (Verhoef et al., 2014). Majority of adolescents have the capacity to drink large quantities of alcohol compared to adults given the fact that the incidental effects are not yet exposed or understood to significant levels. The consequential effects of substance use, including drowsiness, poor coordination among other effects are occasionally viewed as the ultimate price to maturity and often serve as an influencer to the second exposure. Whereas parents continue to view the adolescents through the lenses of being children, majority of such activities tend to bypass their attention. Adolescents who experiment stagers walking poses higher chances of substance testing. These situations increase the potential for substance abuse in adolescents, leading to more escalated situations of alcohol consumption.

Adolescent perception of drinking has in most cases taken a positive side like the feeling of conforming while interacting to adults or a feeling of independence when taking a drink out of choice and without instructions from parents. According to Collins et al. (2016), these facts explain the increased rates of binge drinking within several teens or young adults. Researchers place alcohol as the ideal drink of choice for the majority of adolescents. Many young adolescents have their first exposure to alcohol in tender stages, making alcohol among the leading health problems that require a strategic refocus. Despite the several deaths reported in various demographic areas, the use alcohol is a leading major cause of homicides, suicide, and fatal motor vehicle accidents among adolescents within the United States.

Technological Trends in Substance Abuse

The adolescents in the post-millennium ages experience differentiated trends in the marketing by companies dealing with products like alcohol and cigarettes. Such marketing principles and product rebranding strategies increase the temptations to substance use compared to the previous categorizations of youths. Technology and technological advancements within the post-millennium ages carry a great influence in shaping lifestyle behavior among the adolescents (Yach, 2014). Literature and professional narratives from various health and behavioral experts have pointed a finger to the innovative media and advertisements systems that increase the temptations in the first exposure to substance abuse among adolescents (Yach, 2014). Even though other researchers have confirmed the argument that modern media and changes in electronic advertisements have improved products persuasion models, the general opinion is that modern media not only facilitate the outreach of products to adolescent market but also points out aspects of product differentiation. This implies that the community around have the roles to provide guidance and advice to the adolescents on such products. The maturation of the adolescent brain differs from one individual to another. However, with various systemic variances like delay in perceptions and complex cognitive abilities, Ciocanel et al. (2017) assert that interpretations of media content, especially by adult parents or guardians, plays an important part in providing the correct interpretation of the developing adolescent mind.

Globalization viewed through the use of the internet, and other platforms of interactions like social media equally influences trends of substance use. Majority of the technological innovations are affecting adolescents on the global platform. However, Yach (2014) expresses a contrary opinion attributing the impacts and intensity of substance abuse to the economic development of the country and the aspects of product competition in the market. For instance, the electronic cigarette is likely to be abused by adolescents given the technological and innovative approach used to package it compared to the ordinary tar/tobacco cigarette (Gartner, 2014). Given that majority of parents are yet to adequately engage and interact with such technological innovations regarding products like electronic cigarettes, challenges of guidance and information sharing about the harm to the young people are always lacking.

The Common Substance Used by Adolescents

Alcohol and tobacco are the most commonly used substances among the young people.  They rate high among adolescent since they are readily accessible in stores within the adolescent networks. However, recent surveys have indicated that marijuana is gaining popularity among the adolescents. According to Watkins (2016), adolescents prefer inhalant substances within their immediate reach. Inhalants such as fumes from household cleaners or glues are popular among adolescents while the senior teens have preferences on synthetic marijuana-like Spice or K2. Accordingly, older teens have developed a preference for prescription medicine such as opioid pain relievers among other stimulants such as Adderall (Johnston, O’Malley, Miech, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2014).  Inhalants and stimulants are common among adolescents with several surveys adding their weight to these facts.

The addiction levels of adolescents have been on the increase due to the repeated use of the over the counter and subscription drugs. The vulnerability of the young people to the substance abuse may differ from one adolescent to another. As such, Johnston et al. (2014) explain that the aspects of genetics and environment can work to promote the building of strong psychosocial development and resilience to counter the severe risk factors involved. Parents and family have an important role in monitoring the steps of adolescents with problems of substance abuse and provide support.

Holding Positive Perceptions to Negative Substance

Thousands of adolescents hold various views to technologically branded substances that carries a higher potential for addiction.  Research has shown that emerging technological innovations in the consumption methods for alcohol, marijuana, and cigarettes seem to find higher acceptance levels among adolescents compared to other population demography. Innovations such as vapor pens are more common in young people where they find acceptance compared to the other older populations. The challenges, therefore, relate to parents who have difficulties understanding newer technological trends leading to an absence of knowledge and information base that may provide strategic advice to the adolescents. Innovation such as Stainless Bud Vaporizers used in the consumption of marijuana is prevalent among young people. The packaging of information equally has been slightly indented towards adolescents with the majority of the young people holding the perception that the consumption of marijuana once in a month has no negative effects, especially using modern equipment like vaporizers (Gartner, 2014). Even though the uptake of marijuana is increasing among young people in the US, experts have attributed such increase to lifestyles and the campaign on its medicinal values. This technology trends equally brings into play a new paradigm that accelerates substance consumption among adolescent in the US. Kassaye, Sherief, Fissehaye, and Teklu (2017) assert that parents should endeavor to visit institutions like the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) to access important information from the U.S. National Library of Medicine on the trends in order to improve their preparedness to manage issues of adolescent substance use.

Genetic Intolerance to Substance abuse

The genetic intolerances to alcohol influence both psychological and behavioral aspects of an adolescent. Alcoholic parents or families carry higher possibilities of influencing adolescents compared to those with less exposure to alcohol addiction. Zhai et al. (2017) concur with this argument asserting that children born of alcoholics have a higher probability of becoming alcoholic compared to children with no alcoholic relations. The challenge of genetics and genetic formations for alcoholics, and the high probability of adolescent addiction is an aspect that requires pragmatic medical responses. Research has indicated that children of alcoholics (COA) have almost between 5-7 chances of becoming alcoholic due to brain functionality. However, other indications have been made to the effect that COA has the ability to delay encounter to substance use. It is important to offer empirical data to paint the correct picture with regards to substance abuse among adolescents (Ammerman, Ryan, & Adelman, 2015).

Genetics and hereditary aspects in substance use form a complicated part of adolescent substance use discussion, especially with regards to alcohol and marijuana. Similarly, other negative behavioral aspects like anti-social behaviors, rebelliousness, and the host of other vices that are inevitable have been associated with adolescent substance use. Even though the factors that lead to alcoholism have been annotated to be linked to drinking to alleviate depression, or escape other responsibilities, it is not well established whether the adolescents drink for similar purposes given the tenderness of age and absence of responsibilities.

Developing a Sense of Autonomy and Independence

Every aspect of life entertains a level or restriction presented through various laws, policies, or societal norms, which vary from different sociocultural beliefs and practices. Adolescents have challenges of observing restriction imposed in life through various outfits in the society. Though the rights to autonomy has been viewed as a provision of the law, majority of religious and social institutions are of the view that no individual can be guaranteed absolute autonomy except one that expresses reservations to certain behavioral aspects or conducts among other social considerations. Adolescents autonomy is the negative tool of trade that bring to play aspects of substance use among other vices. The autonomy to decide their interaction is a phenomenon that majority of adolescents will guard accurately. Several youths have had their first encounter of substance abuse in youth parties and sleepovers, which comes as a result of the decision on autonomy and independence. More importantly is the fact that establishing such independence leads to the development of a personal identity and self-image. However, when not well-managed, it equally stands out as a recipe for destructive activity that destroys the adolescent through early exposure to the substance use. The majority of parents face challenges in managing the autonomy issues of their adolescents, leading to constant quarrels and disagreements. However, it is important for the parents to remain upbeat about their adolescents and understand all that goes around them in order to offer support when needed.

The experimental models define the youthful life of adolescents as one that is embroiled in seeking fun and adventure in almost everything they do. Given the limitations of parental presence, advice, and limitations, the existence of adolescents is controlled by their desires to make merry and have fun. Although seeking fun and adventure is part of the socialization process that prepares the adolescent to face the dynamic changes within the peers, it is important that such independence is managed with responsibility and under strict surveillance.

Rebellion among adolescents is another challenge several parents, social institution, and federal organizations continue to struggle with. The physical and psychological developmental occurrences among the adolescents are activities that cause several confusing situations to the youth. Similarly, the adolescents’ quest for recognition and independence is an activity that requires rationalization. It is obvious that majority of the experimental living for adolescents increases the exposure to substance abuse. Therefore, the society should play a pivotal role in guiding adolescents, who are the immediate leaders expected to fit in the shoes of the professional networks in the society,


The adolescents experience emotional and psychological challenges through the developmental stages of childhood to the adulthood. Though societal formations view the adolescents from the lenses of early maturity, the reality is that the majority of the adolescents are still children who require guidance. Parents and family, including the state’s social departments, have a responsibility to play in every adolescent who exposes himself or herself to the risk of substance use. The family has a responsibility of mentorship to ensure value-based systems are inculcated into the decision-making process of the adolescents with regards to their private time and interactions. It is important that sectors of the society that have previously abdicated their roles to reinstate their responsibility to the adolescent to remodel and restore their lives. Accordingly, government social institutions have a responsibility to ensure adolescents protection mechanisms are well interfaced within adolescent movements through the campaign for safe practices and effective decision-making.

Adolescents should be empowered to hold views that promote positive developments while managing the negative situations brought about by their faulty decision making and peer pressure. The technological trends are taking over the responsibility of family in handling mentorship to the adolescents. Given that the mind of the adolescent continues to undergo systemic variations and growth, it is important that it is filled with reasonable content that can guide it into effective decision-making processes. The government, social departments, and experts should continue creating a knowledge exchange forum and decision-making training to equip the adolescents with the requisite capabilities for effective decision-making. For instance, the capability to manage the pressures that emanate from peers and socially delinquent grouping within the society is critical to adolescent lives.

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