Substance Abuse Among Teens

Substance abuse during the teenage years is especially dangerous. Not only are there immediate dangers, risk of injury and poor decisions, but there are ongoing problems. Many individuals who begin using drugs or alcohol during adolescence continue using the substances into adulthood. This results in the body being exposed to the substance longer, with an increased risk of certain cancers and liver disease with alcohol use and various problems with drug exposure.

Part of targeting adolescents for prevention and education involves an understanding of which groups of adolescents are most affected by drug and alcohol use. A study recently published in Archives of General Psychiatry highlights the increased use of substances by certain racial and ethnic groups of teenagers. The research was conducted by scientists at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.

The report found that substance abuse in the Unites States is a serious problem among Hispanics, Native Americans, whites and those who report being of multiple ethnicities/races. The researchers say that these groups of teens seem to be disproportionately affected by substance abuse problems.

The researchers explain that while a goal of the National Institutes of Health is to eliminate the differences between racial groups when it comes to substance abuse, the first step must be to identify the groups most at risk. Little information exists for teens groups that are non-white.

Leading the group of researchers was Li-Tzy Wu, Sc.D., and colleagues, whose objective was to determine variations of substance use and abuse across racial and ethnic variations. Non-white teens comprise the fastest growing group in the United States.

The researchers utilized data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, accessing the reports from 2005 to 2008, and examined surveys administered to 72,561 teens between the ages of 12 and 17. The presence of substance abuse was determined using criteria from the DSM-IV.

The findings of the study revealed that 27,705 of adolescents surveyed reported that they had used alcohol or drugs within the last year, and 7.9 percent met criteria for a substance use disorder, according to DSM-IV. The highest level of substance use was among Native Americans, of whom 47.5 percent reported alcohol use and 15 percent could be diagnosed with a substance use disorder.

The report found that 20.5 percent of Native Americans, 18.1 percent of those with multiple races/ethnicities, and 16.2 percent of whites indicated that they had used both alcohol and drugs.

The researchers believe that the results indicate a need for identification and expansion of prevention efforts targeting specific cultural groups.