Substance Use and Abuse

Substance Use and Abuse

Substance use and abuse is a health issue that affects many teens. Although rates of substance use vary around the world, and the preferred substances of abuse vary as well, addiction, dependence and injury due to intoxication affect youth in nearly every country. It has been well documented that the earlier substance use starts, the bigger is the risk of it leading to substance use disorder. This is why it is absolutely critical to address exposure to substances including illicit drugs, prescription drug abuse, alcohol use and abuse, tobacco and nicotine use.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child specifically addresses the adverse effects of harmful drugs on children in Article 33 (Drug abuse):

Governments should use all means possible to protect children from the use of harmful drugs and from being used in the drug trade.

Below are some tips and resources to help raise awareness about substance use and abuse:

Substance Use and Abuse Event/Promotional Toolkit

Download the Teen Health Week event/promotional toolkit for substance use and abuse.

Download Toolkit

The day’s aim is to provide facts and resources for teens to learn accurate information risks of developing addiction to substances of abuse, immediate dangers from use of a variety of illicit substances, and the debunk myths about safety about drugs and other substances.

This toolkit has been created to make it easy for a variety of organizations (Medical Offices, Schools, etc.) interested in adolescent health to participate in Global Teen Health Week. You are free to use and adapt any of the materials herein for your Teen Health Week activities; however, use of these materials is not required in order to promote adolescent health during Teen Health Week. Participating organizations are at liberty to celebrate Teen Health Week in any manner they wish, and are encouraged to be creative in adapting these ideas to meet the needs of the adolescents you wish to reach. Approval for activities or educational materials is not required.

Substance Use and Abuse Facts

Although specific statistics vary from country to country, and from region to region, these facts help to illustrate the scope of the problem:

  • Globally, one in every 10 girls aged 13-15 years and one in every 5 boys aged 13-15 years use tobacco.
  • In the US alone, more than a million adolescents ages 12 to 17 (5%) had a substance use disorder in 2014.
  • Illicit drug use rates (past month use) increases with age, ranging from 3.4% among those US youth ages 12 to 13 to almost 23% in youth 18-20 years of age.
  • US data have demonstrated that LGBT populations have high rates of alcohol consumption, tobacco use and substance abuse.
  • Alcohol use is common amongst global adolescents and starts at a young age: 14% of adolescent girls and 18% of boys aged 13–15 years in low- and middle-income countries are reported to use alcohol.
  • Binge drinking is a big problem, with almost 1 in 7 US youth binge drinking in the last month.
  • Worldwide, alcohol use is directly related to 7% of all deaths of young people between the ages of 15 and 29.
  • Cannabis use is the most common illicit substance used by adolescentsix with rates up to 1 in 3 15-year olds in certain countries. In many countries, prevalence rates of cannabis use are similar amongst boys and girls.
  • Although cannabis is increasingly perceived as without risk, it can compromise school performance, and heavy regular marijuana use during teenage years can lead to an IQ drop of up to 8 points.
  • Inhalants are inexpensive, legal and easily obtained. In the US, the most common type of inhalant used by teens are markers and felt tip pens. Teens use inhalants to achieve a quick high, but inhalants can be deadly, especially with first use, and longer term are associated with depression and other substance use.
  • Opioids and narcotics are abused around the world, but the opioid crisis and overdose epidemic are particularly widespread in the US.
  • In adolescents, abuse of prescription opioids is associated with prescribed opioids for a medical indication, especially in teens who have no significant history of drug abuse.

Substance misuse and abuse in teens can have lifelong effects and often is attributable to underlying disorders. Critical to understanding and preventing adolescent substance abuse is understanding that addiction is not due to a weakness nor moral failing. There are well described risk factors for adolescent drug abuse. Risk factors particular to this age group include individual factors (early substance use, poor coping skills, disengagement at school or with peer groups, etc), family factors (parenteral substance use, lack of supervision or limits, etc), and community factors (easy accessibility and normalization toward substance abuse, lack of mentors, peer group, etc).xiv Risk factors often travel together, as do protective factors, meaning that the presence of one often predicts the presence of other associated factors.xv Therefore, addressing individual factors alone will be ineffective to improve rates of substance use and abuse amongst teens. It is imperative that our communities focus on community and family factors in addition to individual risks in order to effectively decrease substance abuse in this vulnerable population.

Other Resources
Sexual Health Video

Watch Substance Use and Abuse Video

Substance Use and Abuse Infographic

Download Substance Use and Abuse Infographic