ERIC Identifier: ED304628
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: LaChance, Laurie
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
Alcohol and Drug Use among Adolescents. Highlights: An
Drug use among children has been reported to be ten times more prevalent than
parents suspect (U.S. Department of Education, 1986). The same problem exists
within the schools. The percentage of students using drugs by the sixth grade
has tripled over the last decade. Now one in six 13-17 year-olds has used
marijuana. Nearly two-thirds of all American young people try an illicit drug
before they finish high school (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman, 1985).
The following questions must be answered if those in a position to intervene
are to acquire the tools for overcoming this pervasive problem: (1) Why does
substance abuse exist? (2) How do we identify substance abusers? (3) What is the
role of the school? and (4) What are the components of successful prevention
A survey reported by the National Institute on
Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Department of Health and Human Services, 1982) of
men aged 21 to 59 found the highest proportion of drinking problems among the
group aged 21 to 24. These studies suggest that alcohol problems begin early
among the youth in the United States, increase continuously in each school year,
and peak during students' collegiate and post-graduate years.
Added to the prevalence data are changes in the drugs themselves. Johnston et
al. (1985) have cautioned against the use of prevalence information alone when
trying to gain an understanding of the trends in drug use. There are other
dramatic trends. Although prevalence of use of some drugs may be down, the
intensity of use may be going up (McCurdy, 1986). Today's drugs are more potent
and addictive than ever. For example, marijuana today is five to twenty times
stronger than it was previously. Crack, a new, highly addictive form of cocaine
which is smoked (a particularly dangerous and psychologically addictive method
of use) and the so-called new "designer drugs" (analogs of certain illegal
drugs) have been known to cause permanent brain damage. Slight increases are
also being seen in the use of inhalants and PCP (phenocyclidine). In fact, daily
use of inhalants, PCP, and cocaine have become more prevalent than ever
(Johnston et al., 1985; McCurdy et al., 1986).
CAUSES OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE
Social pressures, from peer,
family, and societal role models are at the top of the list of reasons why
adolescents take drugs. Predisposition toward rebelliousness, nonconformity, and
independence also figure prominently (Towers, 1987). Also, a high correlation
has been found between parental drug use and abuse and drug abuse patterns among
their children (Kandel & Yamaguchi, 1985). Some experimentation with
mind-altering substances appears to be part of the adolescent "rites of
initiation" (Bratter, 1984). During the 1950s, any drug use was considered to be
pathological. Thirty years later, in contrast, abstinence from drugs can be
defined as "deviant" (Collabolletta, Bratter, & Fossbender, 1983).
There has been much debate about
sequential use of drugs. It is likely that the use of a particular drug makes
the use of the next drug in the sequence, considered the next most risky or
deviant, seem a smaller and more acceptable step. The progressively greater
legal tolerance for marijuana, although it may be seen as desirable for reasons
of political philosophy, is not a favorable development from the point of view
of public health. While all marijuana users do not go on to use harder drugs,
they are, nonetheless, the population at risk for the use of harder drugs. When
the use of marijuana expands, the population at risk grows greater.
It is important to note that alcohol precedes marijuana in the developmental
sequence and that alcohol serves as the gateway to other drug use. Stated
simply, alcohol use precedes all other drug use.
IDENTIFICATION OF ADOLESCENT SUBSTANCE ABUSE
the adolescent alcohol abuser is difficult but possible. Early recognition can
result in early intervention and treatment. And treatment is essential because
frequent and heavy use of any drug among adolescents is often a coping mechanism
for dealing with personal problems that need to be confronted and resolved if
normal development is to occur. When drugs are used to cover feelings and to
cope with stress, normal adolescent social and psychological growth is blocked.
Specific behaviors and characteristics to watch for to determine whether or
not alcohol or other drug abuse is occurring include, but are not limited to,
the following: -- frequent absenteeism, -- decline in academic performance, --
conflicts with authority figures, -- problems with peers, -- new peer
relationships, -- evidence of self-destructive behavior, -- avoidance and
distancing, -- depression, -- lack of energy, -- impulsive behavior, -- lack of
concern about personal well-being and hygiene, -- obvious signs of intoxication,
-- evidence of a troubled home life.
Those who have substance abuse problems are usually the last ones to realize
or admit it. They think they can handle it and feel they are still in control.
The process of falling into abuse and addiction is very subtle and the stages of
addiction incremental. For this reason identification is not always
straightforward. The mechanism of denial can also be at work on the part of
parents and other adults.
THE ROLE OF THE SCHOOL
The school does not own the
responsibility for the students' emotional and physical problems. However, when
the school is the only constant in the adolescent's life, and when children of
all ages bring their problems (e.g., drug and alcohol) to the school environment
and to the athletic field, the school has the obligation to address these
problems and try to implement change.
The process of identification is often an overlooked step in many schools'
programs. This step is the link between prevention and treatment; its importance
cannot be overemphasized. Considering the progressive nature of the problem, and
the diminishing hope for recovery as addiction progresses, interventions that
can possibly prevent further damage are worth the effort.
Successful school programs have been developed using two components: (a) a
"core team" who receive formal training, and (b) a referral system for
identifying potential substance abusers. With a system such as this, teachers
are able to identify students exhibiting problematic behavior through the
referral system (usually a confidential form). The core team then follows up
with another identification process to determine whether or not assessment and
intervention are needed.
Treatment is not an issue for schools, apart from referral to outside
agencies and aftercare to help the student make the transition back to the
school from a treatment facility.
SUBSTANCE ABUSE PREVENTION
Prevention programs offer more
hope for reducing adolescent drug use than any other method. The object is to
aim at the reduction, delay, or prevention of drug use before it has become
habitual or clearly dysfunctional.
Some recommendations for planning prevention programs include: Use a
Broad-Based Approach. Deter drug use by limiting the availability of drugs and
enforcing penalties for use, possession, and distribution. Continue to provide
information on the effects of drugs but couple this with social skills training.
Start Prevention Activities Early. Prevention efforts should begin before
youngsters are faced with the decision to use drugs, usually between 12 and 18
years of age.
Help High-Risk Students First. We know from research, experience, and common
sense that some kids are at greater risk of becoming drug abusers than others.
Cover All Bases. Prevention efforts should be a continuum of interrelated and
complementary activities including those at school, at home, and in the
The importance of prevention and early
intervention cannot be overemphasized. Substance abuse problems, if left
unrecognized, will, in most cases, get worse. One does not have to be trained as
a counselor to recognize signs and symptoms. Intuition is a valuable tool. Most
people just need an established channel for referral and assessment and a sense
Bratter, T.E. (1984). The drug mystique. In R.C. Kolodny, T.E. Bratter, &
C. Deep (Eds.), Surviving Your Adolescent's Adolescence. Boston: Little Brown.
Collabolletta, E.A., Bratter, T.E., & Fossbender, A.J. (1983). The role of
the teacher with substance-abusing adolescents in secondary schools. Psychology
in the Schools, 20(4), 450-455.
Department of Health and Human Services. (1982).
Marijuana and health: Ninth report to the U.S. Congress from the Secretary of
Health and Human Services. Washington, DC: DHHS.
Fors, S.W., & Pojek, D.G.
(1983). The social and demographic correlates of adolescent drug use patterns.
Journal of Drug Education, 13(3), 205-221.
Johnston, L.D., O'Malley, P.M., &
Bachman, J.G. (1985). Use of licit and illicit drugs by America's high school
students 1975-1984. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan, Institute for
Social Research. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 271 523)
D.B., & Yamaguchi, K. (1985). Developmental patterns of the use of legal,
illegal and medically prescribed psychotropic drugs from adolescence to young
adulthood. In C.L. Jones & R.J. Battes (Eds.), Etiology of drug abuse:
Implications for prevention. (DHHS Publication No. ADM 8501335) Washington, DC:
U.S. Government Printing Office.
Lohrmann, D.K., & Fors, S.W. (1986). Can
school-based educational programs really be expected to solve the adolescent
drug abuse problem? Journal of Drug Education, 16(4), 327-339.
(Ed.). (1986). The drug free school: What executives can do. Arlington, VA:
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Towers, R.L. (1987). Student drug and alcohol abuse: How
schools can help. Washington, DC: National Education Association Combat Series.
(ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 284 098)
U.S. Department of
Education. (1986). What works. Schools without drugs. Washington, DC: Author.
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