Drugs and Their Effects on Adolescents

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Drug use has become more popular among adolescents between the ages of fourteen to seventeen years of age over the past ten years. Drug Abuse review of the last ten years of research on drug abuse shows that adolescent drug abuse rose sharply. If we can target the causes of this ongoing dilemma, we may begin to take some precautions and decrease the risky behaviors of today and future teens. A user is defined as someone who has used illegal drugs or alcohol more than five times. In recent years teen drug use has increased due to multiple variables.

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Adolescence comes from the Latin word adolescere, which means ‘to grow into maturity’ its start is generally marked by the biological onset of puberty, which signals the end of childhood. This brings with it an array of psychological, sociological, and biological changes, which cause a period of turmoil and anxiety, which extends roughly from the age of eleven to twenty in western societies.

The gains in physical and physiological development that take place during adolescence are accompanied by gains in intellectual and cognitive development. Piaget provided a theory that changes in adolescent behavior might be associated with cognitive abilities. The final stage of cognitive development in Piaget’s theory is that of ‘formal operations,’ which emerges at the time of adolescence, and with this stage, mental operations become more abstract, complex, and logical. (Wadsworth, 2003) This could account for adolescences becoming more vocal and argumentative than they previously have been.

The relationship between parents and children during adolescence generally gathers greater distances, triggered by biological and cognitive changes, disagreements between teenagers and parents increase, and this is a critical time for rearrangement and redeveloping of family ties. This is most intense during the middle stage of adolescence and is associated with autonomy, and as this is an important issue for identity, the struggle for autonomy becomes more and more an important issue in the adolescent battle for independence from the family. However, Coleman states, “this establishing rights to freedom and independence happens at a stage when parents least wish to lose control.”

Research carried out by Steinburg (1987) found that irrespective of when puberty occurred, it was associated with increase behavior autonomy, decreased emotional closeness to parents, and increased conflict. (Wadsworth, 2003)

This period of self-identity is a curial period of development. Adolescents must separate their own identity from that of their parents and develop autonomy in order to maintain maturity. There are gender differences in identity formation between the sexes based on autonomy and attachment. Identity formation for girls is not based as much on autonomy as it is based on attachment, whereas male identity formation is more autonomy-based. This is because the boy’s primary caregiver is normally his mother. Therefore, ” the path for a boy towards development lies not in the continuation of attachment, but it is the separation of the early caregiver, and in the definition of himself as different, masculine, and independent.”(Powell, 2004)

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Environmental Variables

Peer Influence

If problems in the formation of a personal identity persist, drug use may become their escape. Adolescence is a time when the majority of teens will experience their first exposure to drugs and alcohol if one ever makes a choice to experiment with drugs (Milkman, 2004). A person’s teen years are also a time for identity development. Their social environment is closely linked to possible drug addiction (Sloboda, 2006). Peers are a teen’s life, the bonds made between one another are very strong, and drug use may be another let out for a poor ability to bond with others.

The group of peers one does associate with will have a great impact on the individual based on the group’s behavior and drug norms. Negative peer bonding will increase the risk for teen drug use. Negative peer bonding is when an individual feels they aren’t accepted or have difficulty fitting in with their peers. The risk for drug use is only present if the bonds between the individual and the group or family are weak. If a teen’s family relationship is not strong, he may turn to their peers for support.

If the friends that he is turning to our users, they will influence the individual to begin to use because he is in an environment where using is accepted. Also, adolescents will be more adept at using because they can turn to their peers to side with them and make them feel more confident about themselves. (Sloboda, 2006) This process of turning to your peers for acceptance and reassurance is not only increasing risks for drug use, but it is also deteriorating family bonds, which is another variable for increased substance use.

Peers assist in the identity formation of teens. Their influence is one of the strongest to predict whether or not an individual will or will not use drugs. Peers are the first to introduce drugs into one’s life and support their use. If the identity of an adolescent has been accepted by a group of teens that are involved in drug use, then the possibilities are much greater for the individual to begin or continue using because of the pressure put on them by their peers (Powell, 2004). The more someone associates with a specific group of individuals who use, is offered drugs, and is accepted by this group for identity support, the more likely it is that they will become a user.

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Family Influence

An individual’s family will make a great impact on his decisions. If an adolescent and parent have either a positive or negative relationship, it will be a determining variable to the choices made whether to use drugs or abstain. Parent traditions and values will become that of their child if they are accepting of drug use. The probable outcome will be a user. Also, if there is an abundance of the stress of achievement and success, teens may turn to drugs as a way to cope with it because they feel that they are not capable of reaching their parents’ expectations.

The influence of an adolescent’s parents on their decisions and behaviors is just as great as the influence from their peers on whether the teen will or will not begin drug usage. If an unfavorable parent-adolescent relationship is present, it can be a determining factor on whether one will become a user or not. “Parent-adolescent relationships were found to affect an adolescent’s personality, influencing peer selection, which in turn has an impact on drug use” (Sloboda, 2006). If there is a strong maternal relationship, the risk for usage will decrease significantly. Parents should also take the president to moderate the influence of peers on their children. If their own influence of good, moral values are placed upon them, and then the teen will follow them and not commence in using.

Biological Variables


An adolescent’s ethnicity can affect whether they will become a drug user. If there is not a strong sense of ethnic identity present, a conflict between generations, which have different levels of intensity, put on their ethnicity, maybe lead second-generation adolescents to using drugs. A sense of fitting into the dominant culture and assimilating to the norms presented to them is important to adolescents. But, if, to parents, the sense of ethnic unity is number one in their eyes, it may cause conflict and weakened family bonds.

The possibility of a loss of ethnic identity is devastating for some parents, and they put great amounts of pressure on their children to support that. When adolescents try to deviate from their parent’s ethical norms, the conflict that occurs between them is lessened by the adolescent’s drug use.

In a situation where ethnicity is not so influential on one’s life, it can still make a difference in the likelihood of drug use. In a study, it was confirmed that Caucasians were at a higher risk than African Americans for drug use in teens (Milkman, 2004). For many Caucasian and African Americans, their ethnicity isn’t as important as someone from a foreign ethnicity who still lives by their native morals. African Americans are at a reduced risk relative to Caucasians.


Differences between male and female genders can make a difference in the risk for drug use. Males have been found to be more prone to alcohol dependence and marijuana use (Liddle, 2006). They are at a much greater risk than females are for drug use. Males are “less concerned about drugs ill effects” (Powell, 2004). Although the increase in drug use is present in both genders, it has been more prevalent in males than females.


Victimization of adolescents is a variable that may increase the risk of future drug use. Victimization of an adolescent is either sexual or physical assault, violence, such as being shot, stabbed, mugged, robbed, or being threatened with a weapon or witnessing any of those acts (Essau, 2002). Violence plays a role in the increased risk of drug use because substance use is a strategy to cope with the stress produced by violent acts. It is a dysfunctional way of coping, but for some, it may be all that seems to work at the given time. Adolescents who were victims of assault or violence began to use drugs at a younger age, compared to those who were witnesses (Milkman, 2004). The risk for drug use was the highest during the year after the occurrence or witness of the violent act. “Risk of substance abuse or dependence was consistently elevated in adolescents who had been victims of assault or who had witnessed violence” (Sloboda, 2006).


It is devastating how much the use of drugs amongst teens has risen in the past ten years. I think that there are many ways of preventing this increase in drug use in the teen population. If we begin improving these variables that have caused the problems in the beginning and raise awareness to adolescents about the risks and problems that are due to drug use, they will think again about experimentation.


There are multiple variables contributing to the increased drug use in adolescents over the past ten years. The two variables that had the greatest impact on teen drug use are an adolescent’s family association and peer group. Other contributing factors were ethnicity and gender, and victimization. Although they were just minor variables, to a group sample, they can severely affect individual behavior.

Peer and family relationships are the two more influential variables in an adolescent’s life. If their relationships with either of them are inadequate, it can cause drug-affiliated problems. The effects of the parent-adolescent relationships, maternal affection, and parental norm influence are directed towards drug use in adolescents. The relationship between disruptive family relationships and deviant behavior among adolescents, including drug use, is well recognized. Parents can influence whom their child does or does not associate with. If they do not monitor their peers, they may end up affiliating with the deviant crowd, who can then in turn influence drug use.

Gender, ethnicity, and victimization are variables that can not be altered to a certain degree but do affect the risk of drug use in adolescents. Males are at greater risk for alcohol and marijuana use than females. An individual’s ethnicity can also play a role in drug use. Whether you’re Caucasian, African American, Chinese, or Mexican, your ethnic background can influence your choice to use or abuse drugs. Victimization is another variable because as a result of an assault or violent act, an individual may feel they need to turn to drugs as a way to cope with the pressures and to forget about the incident.


Wadsworth Barry J. (2003) Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive and Affective Development: Foundations of Constructivism. (5th Edition) Allyn & Bacon.

Powell David J., Brodsky Archie. (2004) Clinical Supervision in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling: Principles, Models, Methods. Jossey-Bass; Revised Edition.

Sloboda Zili, Bukoski William J. (2006) Handbook of Drug Abuse Prevention (Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research). Springer; 1 Edition.

Milkman Harvey B., Kenneth W. Wanberg. (2004) Criminal Conduct and Substance Abuse Treatment for Adolescents: Pathways to Self-Discovery and Change: The Provider’s Guide. Sage Publications, Inc; Workbook Edition.

Liddle Howard A., Rowe Cynthia L. (2006) Adolescent Substance Abuse: Research and Clinical Advances. Cambridge University Press.

Essau Ceilia. (2002) Substance Abuse and Dependence in Adolescence: Epidemiology, Risk Factors and Treatment. Brunner-Routledge.

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"Drugs and Their Effects on Adolescents." PsychologyWriting, 14 Jan. 2022, psychologywriting.com/drugs-and-their-effects-on-adolescents/.


PsychologyWriting. (2022) 'Drugs and Their Effects on Adolescents'. 14 January.


PsychologyWriting. 2022. "Drugs and Their Effects on Adolescents." January 14, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/drugs-and-their-effects-on-adolescents/.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Drugs and Their Effects on Adolescents." January 14, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/drugs-and-their-effects-on-adolescents/.


PsychologyWriting. "Drugs and Their Effects on Adolescents." January 14, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/drugs-and-their-effects-on-adolescents/.