Essay: Drug and alcohol abuse by adolescents

For decades now, drug and alcohol use by adolescents has been a great problem in this country. Research suggests that there are two major contributing factors to drug and alcohol use and abuse. These factors are broken off into external cues and internal cues. The external factors include the parents of the adolescent and his or her peers. There is research to suggest that parental favorability to drugs and alcohol is one factor, as is parental use presently and in the past, and most importantly the relationship of the adolescent to his or her parent is a strong factor. As far as the peer relationship, it is shown that successful bonding to wholesome peers will yield good habits in a person, while bonding to a deviant crowd will predict drinking and drug activity. The internal cues may lead an adolescent toward drugs and alcohol just as strongly. Research has shown that low self-esteem is linked to drug and alcohol use, and high self-esteem is linked to a sort of invulnerability to drugs and alcohol.
Other factors such as wealth, the community environment, and the presence of mental health affect substance abuse. Affluent youth reported significantly higher substance abuse than inner-city students, consistently indicating more frequent use of cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana and other illicit drugs (Straub,Clinton, &Clark,2010). According to Clinton et al text, more teenage girls than boys now smoke and abuse prescription drugs. Girls are also starting to use marijuana and alcohol at a higher rate than boys. ‘Early adolescence appears to be especially stressful on adolescent girls’ friendships and peer relations, signified by a sharp increase in indirect relational aggression.’ More typical of girls and more distressful to girls than to boys, relational aggression, characterized by such behaviors as spreading rumors or threatening withdrawal of affiliation, appears to emerge as girls’ attempt to negotiate current power relations and affirm or resist conventional constructions of femininity(APA,2012). Friendships can be a source of both knowledge and strength for adolescent girls as well as a source of struggle, hurt, and confusion, particularly as girls move into adolescence and begin to negotiate dominant cultural views of sexual relationships, femininity, and appearance(APA,2012). Many of the risk factors that emerge in the school environment are symptomatic of other problems, such as learning disabilities, emotional problems, or a temporary difficulty in the family (McWhirter, 2004). For many students, and for female students in particular, schools are not safe places. ‘A high degree of sexual harassment has been reported by female students in U.S. high schools. In response to greater public awareness of harassment, there has been an increase in the number of junior high and high schools that have developed policies against sexual harassment(APA,2012). In addition, some schools are implementing programs that address harassment as a serious matter, while focusing on building a school community that supports more appropriate and inclusive behavior (APA,2012).’

Researchers have identified risk factors for juvenile gang membership at a variety of levels: individual, peer group, school, family, and community (McWhirter, 2004). These risk factors range from lack of parental role models to academic failure to neighborhood drug availability.
‘Adolescent substance use can interfere with cognitive, emotional, and social development and may even affect later functioning in adult domains such as parenting and employment.’ The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) recognized that this problem does not arise anew in adolescence, but in fact has roots in childhood. CSAP identified four critical predictors from childhood for substance use that could be valuable targets for prevention of adolescent substance use: parental management of and involvement with the child, and the child’s social competence, self-regulation, and school achievement (Tolan, Szapocznik, & Sambrano, 2006).
Social control theory, social learning theory, and subcultural theory all claim that outside forces, such as peers, family, school, and organizations, influence the adolescent’s behavioral patterns toward socially acceptable behavior if the youth is successfully bonded to people or organizations that adhere to normative expectations.
Related research supports the view that these internalities are associated with adolescent drug and alcohol use and abuse. The internalities that affect behavioral choices are addressed in containment theory and consistency theory. Containment theorists emphasize that behavioral decisions are based on external limiters, such as rules, laws, or consequences, for individuals who are externally contained, but for those who have developed internal control mechanisms, decisions are based on personal beliefs, values, attitudes, and self-identity. A study of adolescent drug use indicated that those who scored higher on external containment had lower self-esteem and higher drug use. It was hypothesized that use of drugs was an extension of an ingrained pattern of reliance on external controls to deal with life’s challenges. Those adolescents who scored higher on internal containment had higher levels of self-esteem and lower self-reported drug use. Consistency theorists believe that a person will engage in behaviors that are consistent with the ideal self-concept and reject behaviors that are incongruent with that self-concept.
Parents are a huge influence on the drug and alcohol use of their children. If an adolescent thinks that his or her parent thinks favorably about taking drugs or drinking, he or she is more likely to use them as well. The key for parents is to keep a good relationship with their sons and daughters. This research has shown that a strong positive relationship between parents and their children will lead to low drug and alcohol use. It also comes down to the internal cues of the individual. It is up to the parents, the peers, and the community leaders to form those healthy bonds with adolescents so as to create high self-esteem in the teenagers today. High self-esteem is a major key to keeping drug and alcohol use to a minimum in teenagers.

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