Make an Appointment


(Outpatient Services)


(Partial Hospitalization)

Substance Abuse

There are three different terms used to define substance-related disorders, including the following:

  • Substance abuse. Substance abuse describes a pattern of substance use leading to significant problems or distress such as failure to attend school, substance use in dangerous situations (driving a car), substance-related legal problems, or continued substance use that interferes with friendships and/or family relationships. Substance abuse, as a disorder, refers to the abuse of illegal substances or the abusive use of legal substances. Alcohol is the most common legal drug of abuse. People can often stop substance abuse on their own or with a little help when they realize it is interfering with their life. 

  • Substance dependence. Substance dependence describes continued substance abuse, even after significant problems in everyday functioning have developed. Signs include an increased tolerance or need for increased amounts of a substance to attain the desired effect, withdrawal symptoms with decreased use, unsuccessful efforts to decrease use, increased time spent in activities to obtain substances, withdrawal from social and recreational activities, and continued use of a substance even with awareness of physical or psychological problems encountered by the extent of the substance use. People often need professional help when they develop substance dependence. 

  • Chemical dependence. Chemical dependence is another term used to describe the compulsive use of chemicals (drugs or alcohol) and the inability to stop using them despite all the problems caused by their use.

Substances frequently abused by adolescents include:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Tobacco
  • Prescription drugs
  • Hallucinogens
  • Cocaine
  •  Amphetamines
  • Opiates
  • Anabolic steroids
  • Inhalants
  • Methamphetamine

Substance abuse causes and risk factors

Substance-related disorders in adolescence are caused by multiple factors, including:

  • Genetic vulnerability
  • Environmental stressors
  • Social pressures
  •  Personality characteristics
  • Psychiatric problems
  • Peer pressure
Some adolescents are more at risk of developing substance-related disorders, including adolescents with one or more of the following conditions present:

  • Children of substance abusers

  • Victims of physical, sexual or psychological abuse

  • Mental health problems, especially depressed and suicidal teens

  • Physically disabled adolescents

Substance abuse symptoms

Behaviors may indicate an adolescent is having a problem with substance abuse may include:

  • Getting high or drunk on a regular basis

  • Lying about if and how much they are using or drinking

  • Avoiding friends and family members

  • Giving up activities they used to enjoy

  • Talking a lot about using drugs or alcohol

  • Believing they need to use or drink in order to have fun

  • Pressuring others to use or drink

  • Getting in trouble at school or with the law

  • Taking risks, such as sexual risks or driving under the influence of a substance

  • Suspension from school for a substance-related incident

  • Chronic absence from school and/or falling grades

  • Depressed, hopeless or suicidal feelings

Diagnosis and treatment of substance abuse

Adolescent substance abuse is believed to be one of the most commonly missed pediatric diagnoses. Adolescents who use drugs are mostly likely to visit a doctor's office with no obvious physical findings. 

Substance abuse problems are more likely to be discovered by doctors when adolescents are injured in accidents occurring while under the influence, or when they are brought for medical services because of intentional efforts to hurt themselves.

A variety of treatment programs for substance abuse are available on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Programs considered are usually based on the type of substance abused.

Medical detoxification, if needed, and long-term follow-up management are important features of successful treatment.

Long-term, follow-up management usually includes formalized group meetings and age-appropriate psychosocial support systems, as well as continued medical supervision. Individual and family psychotherapy are often recommended to address the developmental, psychosocial, and family issues that may have contributed to and resulted from the development of a substance abuse disorder.

Prevention of substance abuse

There are three major approaches used to prevent adolescent substance use and abuse:

  • School-based prevention programs. School-based prevention programs usually provide drug and alcohol education and interpersonal and behavior skills training.

  • Community-based prevention programs. Community-based prevention programs usually involve the media and are aimed for parents and community groups. Programs, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD), are the most well-known, community-based programs.

  • Family-focused prevention programs. Family-focused prevention programs involve parent training, family skills training, adolescent social skills training and family self-help groups. Research literature available suggests that components of family-focused prevention programs have decreased the use of alcohol and drugs in adolescents and improved effectiveness of parenting skills.

Make an Appointment


(Outpatient Services)


(Partial Hospitalization)