Substance abuse is the hazardous or harmful pattern of using substances such as alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs or prescription drugs leading to impairment or distress with one or more of the following behavior;

  • Recurrent substance use resulting in a failure to fulfill major responsibilities at home, school or work such as repeated absent, suspension or expulsion
  • Recurrent substance – related legal problems such as arrests for disorderly conduct that are substance related.
  • Recurrent substances use in situations where it is physically dangerous, such as driving while impaired.
  • Continued substance use despite having persistent or recurring social or personal problems caused or worsened by substance use.

Substance abuse among the youth is on the increase and the initiation of substance use is even occurring at a much younger age

Substance Abuse

Alcohol is the most abused substance among young people because it is;

  • – Readily available
    – Easily accessible
    – Cheap to acquire.
    – Often sold and hawked in the street without restrain.

Young people often engage in binge drinking, a way of drinking that could elevate the blood alcohol concentration above normal

This consequently causes increased risk for potentially harmful behaviors.

Other common Substances of Abuse

  • Opiates
    Anabolic Steroids

The Consequences of substance abuse

School Problems

Substance abuse among youth has been found to;

  • – lower their commitment to education,
    – cause a decline in grade,
    – increase absenteeism from school and related activities,
    – increase potential for dropping out,
    – cause higher truancy ratio-among them

The cognitive and behavioral problems from illicit drug use or other substances by young people not only affect their own academic performance, but may also disrupt learning by the peers

Health and Safety Consequences

Substance abuse carries a potential health risk that can jeopardize the life of those involved.

Unintentional injures including motor-vehicle accidents resulting from substance abuse have been one of the major causes of death among youths and young adults.

Others include physical disabilities, diseases, and possible over-dose.

In addition to drug related suicides, homicides and others, youths who abuse substances are at increased risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections including HIV infection
This is because they are more likely to have multiple (sequential or concurrent) sexual partners and to engage in unwarranted and unprotected sexual intercourse and other sexually risky behaviors.

Juvenile Delinquency and Crime

There has been a strong association between conduct disorder and substance use among youths (teenagers in particular).

Physical abuse, sexual victimization, burglary, theft and other related offences has increased among young people who abuse drug and alcohol.

Peer Relationships decline

Youths who uses alcohol and other drugs or substance of abuse may be alienated from and stigmatized by their peers.

They disengage from school and community activities because of their substance abuse depriving their peers and the community of the positive contribution they might otherwise make.

Social, developmental and emotional consequences

Substance abuse can prevent an adolescent from completing their developmental task and as such thwart their proper transition into the adult that the society expects

Social and Economic Cost

Monetary expenditures and emotional distress related to alcohol and other substance of abuse causing crimes among young people has a negative effect on the society. There is an additional burden for the support of young people who are not able to support themselves.

Increasing demand for treatment of complication resulting from substance abuse is consequential

Family Issues

Substance abuse jeopardizes many aspect of family life. It can lead to and may also result from differential family life.

When a youth is involved in drug and alcohol abuse, the parents and the siblings are affected and its consequences may drain family financial and emotional resources

What can be done (Treatment of drug abuse in young people)

Young people’s substance use need to be identified and addressed as soon as possible.

Young people can benefit from a drug abuse intervention even if they are not addicted to a drug.

Routine annual medical visits are an opportunity to ask adolescents/youths about drug use

Legal intervention and sanctions or family pressure may play an important role in getting youths and adolescent to enter, stay in, and complete treatment

Treatment of substance use disorder should be tailored to the unique needs of the adolescent or youth

Treatment should address the need of the whole person, rather than just focusing on his or her drug use.

Behavioral therapies are effective in addressing young people’s drug use. Behavioral therapies delivered by trained clinicians, helps them to stay off drugs by strengthening their motivation to change.

Families and the community are important aspect of treatment. The support of family is important for young people’s recovery from substance abuse.

Effectively treating substance use disorders in young people requires also identifying and treating any other mental health condition they may have.

Sensitive issues such as violence and child abuse or risk of suicide should be identified and addressed. Many adolescents or youths who abuse drugs have history of physical, emotional, and /or sexual abuse or other trauma.
It is important to monitor drug use during treatment.

Youths, adolescents or young adults recovering from substance use disorders may experience relapse, or a return to drug use.
Staying in treatment for an adequate period of time and continuity of care afterward is important.

Testing youths (adolescents) and young adults for sexually transmitted disease like HIV, as well as hepatitis B and C, is an important part of drug treatment. Youths who abuse substances, are often predisposed to or at increased risk of diseases that are transmitted sexually as well as through the blood, including HIV, and hepatitis B and C.


Compiled by Dr Osonwa Ikechukwu