Adolescents and Substance Abuse

For most children, the most high-risk time for a child to engage in drug abuse are within major transitional periods of their life. These transitions include, but are not limited to, parents’ divorcing, moving, and transitioning from one educational stage to the next. With the exposure of drug use at a higher rate in middle and high schools, children are more likely to become involved with illegal drug usage. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) in 2006 reported that children are already abusing drugs by the age of 12 or 13, which likely means that they began their usage at an earlier date. According to the Partnership/MetLife Foundation Attitude Tracking Study (2009), an increase has occurred with drug and alcohol use since 1998. Additional variables, such as family situations, may increase a child’s risk for later drug abuse. Family situations include the lack of attachment and nurturing by the parents and or caregivers, ineffective parenting and caregivers who personally abuse drugs increases the chances for child to engage in substance abuse.

In a recent 2014 study, the Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, Vol 24(2), co-occurring depression and substance abuse were tested along with treatment designs. The study examines depression, anhedonia, anxiety symptoms, motivation for change in relation to substance use, and reward learning in adolescents with co-occurring depressive and substance use disorders. To this, adolescents in an acute residential treatment program for substance abuse and other psychiatric disorders, completed self-report measures of symptoms and motivation for change in relation to substance use, as well as a computer-based probabilistic reward task, to measure reward responsiveness upon admission and at discharge. The researchers hypothesized that over the course of residential treatment, patients would: (a) exhibit improvement in depressive, anhedonia, and anxious symptoms and enhanced motivation for change in relation to substance use; (b) show increased reward responsiveness from admission to discharge; and (c) show gender specific differences in improvement in hedonic functioning as measured through self-report and objective behavioral assessment.

The outcome of the study was similar to that of the hypothesis. Over the course of acute residential treatment, adolescents exhibited significant reductions in depressive symptoms, and anhedonia, but not anxious symptoms. Importantly, during the course of residential treatment, adolescents also demonstrated increased recognition of their drug problem, as well as taken toward change in relation to drug use. There were no significant differences in these outcomes between males and females.


Boger, K. D., Auerbach, R. P., Pechtel, P., Busch, A. B., Greenfield, S. F., & Pizzagalli, D. A. (2014, June). Co-occurring depressive and substance use disorders in adolescents: An examination of reward responsiveness during treatment. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 24(2), 109-121. doi:10.1037/a0036975

Partnership for a Drug-free America. (2009). Partnership attitude tracking study (PATS). Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2006b). Results from the 2008 national survey on drug use and health: National findings. DHHS Pub. No. (SMA) 06- 4194, NSDUH Series H-30. Rockville, MD: office of Applied Studies. Retrieved from

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