Thursday, March 18, 2010

Substance Abuse Among Adolescents 12 – 17 Years of Age

A recent clinical review presented the significance of substance abuse among adolescents, 12 to 17 years of age. According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.3% of 12 to 17 year olds are current illicit drug users. Of those users, 6.7% used marijuana, 2.9% used psychotherapeutics, 1.1% used inhalants, 1.0% used hallucinogens, and 0.4% used cocaine. In addition to illicit drug use, more than one-half of Americans, aged 12 or older, reported being current consumers of alcohol. In 2008 alcohol consumption rates were 3.4% (12 to 13 year olds), 13.1% (14 to 15 year olds), and 26.2% (16 to 17 year olds).

With this in mind, the implications of substance abuse in the adolescent population are huge. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one in every four deaths is attributed to alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drug use. Substance abuse also places a huge burden on the United States economy and healthcare system. It is estimated that substance abuse costs the U.S. economy four- hundred and fourteen billion dollars every year. Furthermore, five-hundred twenty-seven thousand dollars are spent every year on Emergency Department visits for illicit drug use.


Managing substance abuse amongst adolescents requires awareness about the issue, prevention efforts, adequate treatment interventions, and access to care. Issues facing primary care practitioners managing substance abuse include patient acknowledgement of the problem, patient motivation to receive treatment and adhere to the treatment plan, and insurance restraints surrounding coverage and funding for substance abuse services. Resources needed to effectively manage substance abuse include individual counseling, family therapy, centers offering detoxification, inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities, and self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Alateen, and Al-Anon. Such resources are imperative for both the primary care practitioner as well as the patient, in aiding the recovery process.


Practice implications for primary care practitioners include awareness about substance abuse in the adolescent population, maintaining current knowledge about guidelines and recommendations for managing patients presenting with substance abuse, recognizing which substances are most prevalent in the geographical area they are serving, screening all adolescent patients for substance abuse at each visit, and providing appropriate referrals and follow-up.


Stacy Baldwin, RN, CRC

Virginia Commonwealth University

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