Predictors of Adolescent Drug Addiction
Is Your Child A Drug Addict?
It is hard to predict who will become addicted to drugs. Not every adolescent who experiments with drugs will become addicted. Of those adolescents who experiment with illicit drug use, only a small percentage become severely addicted. Those that do get addicted fall into one of several categories; those who experiment briefly then quit, those who experiment for a longer period of time, then stop because they recognize it is becoming a problem (These people are problem users, but not yet severely addicted); and those who begin to use drugs around the age of 12 or 13 years old, the most common age of onset for illicit drug use according to research (Alexander & Bickley, 2004; Steinberg, 2002), their usage progressing until they become severely addicted. The severely addicted individual is someone who needs primary addiction treatment and/or hospitalization as a result of their drug abuse.
The severely addicted individual is the one who warrants the most concern for therapists and society in general. The severely addicted people are those who commit crimes to support their addictions, make-up the bulk of the prison population in this country, and cause the most harm to themselves and others. For this reason, there is a focus in research to identify and predict those at risk for becoming severely addicted to illicit drugs. Since illicit drug use begins in adolescence, much of the research focuses on this period of development.
Commonly Held Predictors
There are commonly held predictors of adolescent substance abuse that are recognized in the literature. Often drug abuse is associated with unconventionality, which includes risk-taking behavior (Steinberg, 2002). Risk-taking behavior includes experimentation with drugs, alcohol, nicotine, and sex (Steinberg, 2002). There are psychological, sociological, environmental, and biological factors involved in predicting future drug abuse, assessing current drug abuse, and determining a drug abuser’s prognosis. Deviance research has developed in all areas. In each area there are specific and general indicators of potential deviant behavior, especially drug abuse.
Self-Medication Hypothesis and Adolescent Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Recent research has focused on comorbidity and the self-medication hypothesis of drug abuse. These theories suggest that adolescents begin to experiment with drugs because they are attempting to correct biological irregularities in their own brains. How do adolescents know they have a brain chemistry imbalance that they need to correct? The simple answer is that they don’t know, at least consciously. The only thing the adolescent knows is that he or she seems to be experiencing life differently from others in various ways, and when they drink alcohol or get high on drugs they feel “normal.” The simple truth is that the adolescent enjoys the effects produced by alcohol and/or drugs. I think this theory is closer to the truth than others I have researched.
Adolescents may or may not become medically diagnosed “addicts” or “alcoholics” after experimenting with alcohol or drugs. However, those with a biological/psychological/genetic predisposition towards becoming an alcoholic or addict, will most likely begin to abuse substances to the point where they no longer have control over their drinking and drug use, and therefore become truly addicted.
Alexander, P. & Bickley, B. (2004). Effects of addiction treatment coupled with higher education. University California Irvine: Presented at Research Symposium.
Steinberg, L. (2002). Adolescence (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.