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Substance Abuse / Chemical Dependence

What is substance abuse/chemical dependence?

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

What substances are most often abused by adolescents?

Substances frequently abused by adolescents include, but are not limited to, the following:

What causes substance abuse/chemical dependence?

Cultural and societal norms influence acceptable standards of substance use. Public laws determine the legal use of substances. The question of whether there is a normative pattern of substance use in adolescence remains controversial. Substance-related disorders in adolescence are caused by multiple factors including genetic vulnerability, environmental stressors, social pressures, individual personality characteristics, and psychiatric problems. However, determining which of these factors are primary and which are secondary in adolescent populations has not been determined. Most of the knowledge available regarding substance use and abuse comes from studying adult populations. A lack of research studying youthful substance use and abuse leaves questions concerning how it differs from substance abuse in other age groups unanswered.

Who is affected by substance abuse/chemical dependence?

Parental and peer substance use are considered two of the more common factors contributing to youthful decisions regarding substance use. Alcohol use among adolescents has increased during the last 10 years.

Some adolescents are more at risk of developing substance-related disorders, including adolescents with one or more of the following conditions present:

What are the symptoms of substance abuse/chemical dependence?

The following are the most common behaviors that indicate an adolescent is having a problem with substance abuse. However, each adolescent may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of substance abuse may resemble other medical problems or psychiatric conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is substance abuse/chemical dependence diagnosed?

A pediatrician, psychiatrist, or qualified mental health professional usually diagnoses substance abuse in adolescents. However, adolescent substance abuse is believed by some to be the most commonly missed pediatric diagnosis. Adolescents who use drugs are most likely to visit a physician's office with no obvious physical findings. Substance abuse problems are more likely to be discovered by physicians 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. Clinical findings often depend on the substance abused, the frequency of use, and the length of time since last used, and may include the following:

Treatment for substance abuse/chemical dependence:

Specific treatment for substance abuse/chemical dependence will be determined by your child's physician based on:

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. Detoxification (if needed, based on the substance abused) and long-term follow-up management are important features of successful treatment. Long-term follow-up management usually includes formalized group meetings and developmentally 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/chemical dependence:

There are three major approaches frequently used to prevent adolescent substance use and abuse, including the following:

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Online Resources of Child & Adolescent Mental Health


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