Substance use in adolescence: risk factors

The vital phase of adolescence becomes a particularly sensitive period in establishing the identity of the individual himself, so it seems necessary to analyze what circumstances can promote or prevent harmful risk behaviors in this age group. age, such as substance use.

In studies conducted by the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality (2018), a statistic was developed where the state of consumption at the national level in 2016-2017 is indicated, analyzing several variables such as l age of onset, sex or type of substance used in the adolescent population (14-18 years).

These data show that while the onset of substance use such as alcohol, tobacco or certain drugs such as cannabis was delayed by a few months at the ages indicated compared to a previous decade, the frequency and volume of use are currently higher than in previous years. In this article we will see what factors can influence in relation to this drug use in adolescence.

    Characteristics of the adolescent stage

    As stated at the outset, adolescence involves a vital period of significant psychological complexity, as a confluence of various factors of various kinds (physiological, emotional and social) interact to consolidate in the subject his own “I”. For this reason, at these ages the behaviors of assertiveness, differentiation from familiar reference figures and even the appearance of some are very frequent. oppositional behavior and a questioning of the rules and limits imposed from the outside.

    Another factor that plays an important role is the growing influence that the peer group exerts on the individual, to the detriment of those provided by parental figures, which were of greater importance during childhood. like that, teens feel a lot of pressure from the group and they become very vulnerable to possible rejection or social acceptance.

    In response to the two aspects exposed (the need for assertiveness and the decline of parental influence), it is observed in this population group. an increase in sensation seeking and experiencing novelty for themselves, Independently and requiring increasing rates of autonomy. Adolescents often exhibit a self-centered personal profile, which in some cases leads to a rejection of adult help or support.

    Thus, the adolescent psyche sits between a childish type of reasoning (more impulsive and irrational) and a more adult perspective (more serene and thoughtful). Therefore, although adolescents show different ideas, thoughts and concerns than children, they still find it very complex to adopt more mature perspectives, which is why they become a special group. vulnerable to advertising campaigns that associate substance use with a successful or socially attractive personal profile.

    Nature of substance use

    The phenomenon of substance use can be defined as a multifactorial aspect, because its effect on the person becomes the result of three major variables which come together:

    • The individual, with his physical and psychological characteristics.
    • The context, in which social, cultural, economic, family factors, etc. are involved.
    • The consumer substance, which in different measures and ways exerts a pharmacologically active effect on the body, can lead to the development of dependence.

    In each of these main areas there are a number of more specific factors than they can have a significant influence on potential substance use in adolescence, Although it is true that we can not say that they play a direct causal role.

    Risk factors

    Risk factors are the circumstances that can increase the likelihood of use, while protective factors describe practices that decrease this proportion of occurrence of this behavior.

    1. Individual factors

    These are the risk factors present in individuals.

    1.1. Values ​​and beliefs

    consists of ethical and moral attitudes and beliefs and values ​​transmitted by family and peer group with regard to one’s own substance use or other more general vital aspects, for example responsibility, importance of health, etc.

      1.2. social skills

      Skills and social resources, such as competence in interpersonal interaction behaviors or the set of personal resources available to the adolescent to establish satisfactory relationships adapted to reality it is crucial for him to be able to express his opinions, assert himself and be critical before according to which risk situations and circumstances.

      1.3. Self-concept and self-esteem

      These elements are defined by the way in which an individual describes himself, by the personal image he has of his “I” and by the degree of personal security reflected.

      Thus, it has been shown that individuals with an adequate level of these two phenomena are less vulnerable in risk situations. Conversely, when self-esteem is low, consumption may have the function of avoiding vital frustrations, which can precipitate consumption.

        1.4. experimentation

        Experimentation, understood as an intrinsic phenomenon in adolescence, can be linked to situations of consumption, reinforce their occurrence if they are associated with pleasant or positive contingencies like having fun, meeting other people etc.

        1.5. Emotional and behavioral self-control

        Self-control may be diminished at this vital stage due to the presence of facets such as impulsivity and the need for immediate gratification, so common in adolescence.

        2. Relational factors

        These factors have to do with the social contexts that adolescents go through.

        2.1. school

        The school, as one of the main agents of education and socialization, exerts a very relevant influence. It has been observed that students with high academic failure or absenteeism, as well as negative attitudes towards peers or teachers they tend to have a higher risk of consumption.

        2.2. Peer-to-peer group

        At these ages friendships become the main social referenceThus, the perception of feeling integrated and accepted by this group largely determined their behavior and attitudes. In consumer-friendly groups, there is an increased likelihood of risk to the adolescent.

        2.3. Leisure background

        The relationship between the organization of leisure time and the economic aspect, from which a strong association can be established between the free time available for adolescents (on weekends) and substance use.

        2.4. family

        The results show that when the parenting environment is unstructured or disrupted in establishing satisfying relationships among members, you are more likely to use among young people.

        On the other hand, the attitude of the family towards the consumption habit will also be fundamental as a risk factor; the higher the acceptance and standardization, the higher the rate of substance use.

        3. Social factors

        This category includes the most widespread social phenomena.

        3.1. Knowledge, accessibility and volume of advertising on substances

        In this he plays a key role the level of transmission of information that the adolescent has received from the main reference numbers: Family, school and peer group. This determined the adolescent’s perception of consumption facilitating or preventing such action from being avoided.

        3.2. The socio-economic nature of the social environment interaction

        In this they are observed higher rates of consumption in community areas with precarious conditions in terms of economic level and capacity for social integration.

        To conclude

        Throughout the article, various types of aspects have been listed that can affect the development of consumer behaviors in the teenage population. It has been verified that this set of factors has a multidimensional and correlational character, which is not causal.

        Despite this, many of them are linked to the type of educational development experienced by young people and, therefore, with the level of success in internalizing skills and personal values ​​such as responsibility and autonomy, an adequate degree of assertiveness, social skills or level of self-esteem acquired, as well as the rate of supervision and quality autonomy of communication between the various socialization agents and the child.

        In this way, it seems clear that working on the promotion of housing with good family integration, where there is a combination of norms, limits, adaptive values and if positive emotional support is in place, it will be crucial to ensure that future statistics reflect lower values ​​for adolescent substance use.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Alegret J., Comellas MJ, Font P. and Funes, J. (2006). Adolescents, parenting, drugs, sexuality and body worship. Family and education collection n ° 5.
        • “Minors try drugs later and later but increase their use.” COUNTRY (April 2, 2018). Original source:

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