Drug Abuse in Adolescents

Signs, Symptoms, Risk Factors and Protection Factors

What is Addiction?

Addiction is essentially a chronic brain disease in which the individual is characterized by a compulsive drug seeking behavior, despite any negative consequences.

Drug abuse has the ability to change the structure of the brain, which ultimately leads to addiction. Many drugs mimic natural neurotransmitters and therefore increase the release of dopamine, the "reward" hormone. The body will compensate for this over production causing a decreased production of dopamine. This is what causes users to build up a tolerance, and therefore use more drugs in higher doses, becoming addicted.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse in Adolescents

-Having bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils; using eye drops to try to mask these signs

  • -Skipping class; declining grades; suddenly getting into trouble at school
  • -Missing money, valuables, or prescriptions
  • -Acting uncharacteristically isolated, withdrawn, angry, or depressed
  • -Dropping one group of friends for another; being secretive about the new peer group
  • -Loss of interest in old hobbies; lying about new interests and activities
  • -Demanding more privacy; locking doors; avoiding eye contact; sneaking around
  • The 5 Domains

    There are 5 domains or settings in which risk factors and protective factors may arise. These are risk factors that can be controlled for to help prevent drug abuse and addiction.

    - Individual

    -Risk Factor: Early Aggressive Behavior

    -Protective Factor: Impulse Control

    - Family

    -Risk Factor: Lack of Parental Supervision

    -Protective Factor: Parental Monitoring

    - Peer

    -Risk Factor: Substance Abuse

    -Protective Factor: Academic Competence

    - School

    -Risk Factor: Drug Availability

    -Protective Factor: Antidrug Use Policy

    - Community

    -Risk Factor: Poverty

    -Protective Factor: Strong Neighborhood Attachment

    Drug Abuse and Prevention

    Drug abuse and addiction has become a common disease in today's society. In order to help control drug abuse in our youth we need to take into consideration all 5 domains. These all provide different risks and no single factor can determine whether or not a person will become addicted to drugs. However, if we make strides to control for all 5 domains and their individuals risks, the less drug abuse and addiction we will see.

    Drug prevention ultimately starts with an individual's family. They provide the foundation in which the other 4 domains build upon. Due to this type of structure it is important that adequate information on drugs and their effects is disseminated to the public so the risks are completely understood. Studies show that when adolescents understand the risks associated with drugs they are less likely to use them.

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    In conclusion, drug abuse is a behavior that commonly leads to drug addiction, which is a serious, yet manageable disease of the brain. However, the best solution is abstinence rather than treatment. This is why using protective factors to outweigh risk factors is crucial the fight against drug abuse and addiction.


    Robinson, L., Smith, M., and Saisan, J. (February 2014). Drug abuse and addiction. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/drug_substance_abuse_addiction_signs_effects_treatment.htm

    National Institute on Drug Abuse. (January 1997). Preventing drug use among children and adolescents (in brief). Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/preventing-drug-use-among-children-adolescents

    National Institute on Drug Abuse. (April 2007). Drugs, brain, and behavior: The science of addiction. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/science-addiction