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Updated on August 10, 2011


Alcohol and drug abuse spares no segment of our population and does not discriminate. Whether a person is young, old, female, male, or of any ethnic race or sexual orientation, they can become vulnerable to alcohol and drug addiction.

Certain populations of the United States have special risk factors that make them especially vulnerable to alcohol and drug abuse. Thus, alcohol and drug treatment programs have to be modified to fit the needs of a special population to be effective.

A counselor certainly would not treat an elderly person with drug or alcohol dependence in the exact way that they would a college student. The teenage years are a period of life that includes many emotional and physical changes and spans the ages of roughly 12 to 21 years. There are three special risk factors that make teenagers vulnerable to alcohol and drug abuse .


There are several special risk factors that make teenagers vulnerable to alcohol and drug abuse. These risk factors include family characteristics, emotional development and social interactions outside the home. I think the family characteristics of an adolescents home can make them vulnerable to alcohol and drug addiction.

In life, we cannot pick our parents and we live under their rule until we move out of the house. We depend on our parents for basic needs, support and for them to teach us right from wrong. Family situations can heighten a child's risk for drug abuse when there is a lack of attachment and nurturing by parents, ineffective parenting, and a parent who uses drugs.

Another risk factor has to do with the developing brains of the teenager. During adolescence, the part of the brain involved in judgment, decision making and emotional control is still developing. Because their brains are immature, kids are more likely to make poor decisions about drugs and alcohol. During this age adolescents are also more susceptible to risk taking, experimentation and thrill seeking as they test boundaries and try to find their identities in life.

Another special risk factor that makes teenagers more vulnerable to addiction has to do with social factors such as peer pressure and the importance of fitting in. There is no other age span in life that there is more of a need to fit in than in adolescence. Risk also increases if peer groups include those who use and are experimenting with alcohol and/ or other drugs or who provide access to them, typically teens' use of alcohol or other drugs mirrors that of their friends.



How should we treat teenagers with alcohol or drug abuse problems? How should treatment be modified? First, any treatment plan for teenagers should stress working with the family. In dealing with teenagers, the importance of working with the family cannot be overemphasized.

The parents need to deal with their child's substance use. And they must consider their own behaviors that may have protected, covered up, excused, or, for that matter, contributed to the problem. It is really important in treatment of adolescents that their parents are on board with their treatment plan because parents have a big influence on their kids and their success. When the family is not deemed fit to work with, legal measures can be brought on to get the child in a safer environment. A strong parent child bond can have a great impact on reducing risks.

Reducing developmental and social risk factors can be done by teaching teenagers problem solving and social skills that can build self esteem and identify feelings and the ability to ask for help. The clinical style we use to work with teenagers can be a big factor as well. The tasks of adolescence-developing autonomy and individuation- require questioning and pushing against authority figures. Clinical styles that are respectful, acknowledge choices and ambivalence, and do not increase resistance seem to work well with young people. This clinical style called motivational interviewing has become very popular in drug treatment centers across the country.

In closing, the teen years can be a difficult age in our lives. In the teen years we can have big mood swings, act irrationally and resist authority. Teenagers can become vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse due to a number of risk factors. Family characteristics, emotional development as well as social interactions outside the home are some of the risk factors that are special to this particular population. If we can iron out some of these problems early on in the teen years then maybe we can prevent clients from having future problems, Studies have shown that abuse of drugs in late childhood and early adolescence is associated with greater drug involvement. It is important to note that most youth, however, do not progress to abusing other drugs.


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