Drug Abuse as a Public Health Menace in Adolescents


Currently, the issue of drug consumption among young adults has become widely discussed and utterly controversial. Many people hold an opinion that adolescents are in particular danger of using drugs and their consequent adverse influence, which is proved with scientific pieces of evidence and various studies. However, some researchers claim that today’s young adults are remarkably self-conscious, and trends in adolescents’ drug consumption are statistically promising. It is possible to note that “past-year use of illicit drugs other than marijuana has held steady at the lowest levels in more than two decades” (Office of Adolescent Health, 2019).

Nevertheless, the question remains – is there a real public health menace in adolescents’ drug consumption, and what is the general situation around it nowadays? This paper aims at analyzing the data on the issue from various researches, evaluating referential opinions, and drawing the conclusion with a consequent answer to the question mentioned above.

Affecting factors

To start with, it seems essential to clarify the primary notions. Adolescence is an utterly specific age that can be characterized by exposure to such social phenomenon as peer pressure or bullying, which also leads to psychological disorders, such as anxiety and depression (Bagley, 2018). In addition, it is a typical case for young adults to experience boredom and lack of emotions, which, along with the factors mentioned above, makes them vulnerable and susceptible to drug consumption. A reason for concern is that, although lately statistics show the lowest percentage of drug-using teenagers, partially young adults still use substances, such as marijuana and alcohol, which are consumed most often.

Moreover, an adolescent brain and mind are utterly exposed to drugs since dopamine contained in them causes pleasant feelings to which the brain, especially that of an adolescent, responds positively. It is the point where the addiction begins as it is common for people to get used to the state of pleasure and, consequently, to want to prolong it. To avoid or treat addiction, it is essential to detect such a state as early as possible and try to intervene.

In most cases, there are deeper reasons for starting to consume drugs, such as psychological disorders, life ordeals, peer pressure, shaming failures, and so on. Furthermore, it is highly significant to be able to differentiate the symptoms of drug consumption and the impact and its results of the mentioned above factors themselves correctly. Confusion and wrong accusations can make the situation much worse even if there is no drug consumption.

The next notion of defining is drug consumption, addiction, and abuse. According to Seligman et al. (2017), drug consumption itself is not so dangerous since it is the sole process of using psychoactive substances, such as cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and so on. Whereas drug addiction is a disorder resulting from a constant, usually uncontrolled, drug consumption, and leading to brain and mental diseases and behavioral changes. Last but not least, drug abuse is using both legal and illegal substances in quantities or ways that are harmful to a person or other people. For instance, drug abuse is when a person takes more medicines that were prescribed or consume illegal drugs for various reasons, such as to ease stress, to relax, and to distract their attention.

NJ Policy on Drug Abuse in Adolescents

Currently, in New Jersey, there is a firm policy aimed at the control of substances consumed by underaged people. According to the law, it is legally prohibited to serve, make available or offer alcoholic beverages to adolescents (people under the legal age) (“Availability of alcoholic beverages,” 1995). Besides, there are programs targeted at helping the addicted, such as Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (GCADA) that was established by NJSA 26:2BB. The GCADA deals with raising public awareness and prevention planning. According to its report, programs conducted by the organization have led to significant results, such as increased awareness on the issue and successful treatment of addicted people (Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, 2014).

Dangerous Results of Drug Abuse

There is no doubt that considerable problems appear when a person starts to misuse or abuse drugs. It leads to significant troubles, such as behavioral changes, health problems, brain and mental disorders resulting in worsening of social and interpersonal relationships, personal development, living conditions, and so on. Consequently, it is impossible to deny that drug abuse can be considered a public menace, especially in adolescents, since they are more susceptible to its side effects. Using drugs by young people is very likely to result in physical or mental diseases later in adult life. What is more, nowadays’ teenagers are tomorrow’s adults, the next generation. Therefore, it is crucial to help them grow up without dramatic brain and mental dysfunctions.

Among other significant risks, there is a remarkable risk of death as a result of drug abuse. Mostly, it is connected with a drug overdose, although there are also car accidents, domestic violence, and so on. According to Curtin, Tejada-Vera, and Warmer (2017), “drug overdose deaths in the United States are a major public health challenge” (p. 5). It is one of the essential reasons to try to control adolescents, pay special attention to their pastimes and surrounding and educate them about drugs. Only when other influencing factors, such as bullying, boredom, and mental disorders, will be controlled and adequately dealt with, will this major problem of drug consumption and abuse among young adults, be solved.

Types of Drug Abuse

Generally, nowadays, trends of young adults’ drug consumption continue to decrease, although some drugs cause particular concerns. It is possible to note that the substances that are most often abused are pain medications, including opioids, alcohol, cigarettes, including vaping and e-cigarettes, marijuana, and inhalants (The NIDA Blog Team, 2018). According to statistics, it is possible to assume that adolescents are generally aware of the risks of using drugs, such as alcohol, cigarettes, and opioids. However, they are less cautious with vapes, inhalants, and marijuana, which are also utterly risky and can be damaging to health. Therefore, it is essential to monitor drug awareness among teenagers, to teach them properly about drug consumption, its consequences, and side effects.

Researchers also claim that “the abuse of alcohol is associated with more harm than all of the other drugs and substances” (Pagliaro, A. M., & Pagliaro, L. A., 2019, p. 32). This issue can be provoked by such a firm factor as culture and traditions. Nowadays, there is hardly any gathering or celebration without alcohol and adolescents are especially susceptible to drink beer or other beverages in such surroundings as a party. Moreover, during these events, other factors can be activated. For instance, a person can experience pressure from acquaintances who can manipulate them by the feeling of guilt and disunity. Therefore, alcohol, sometimes treated as a social instrument, a helping tool in socialization, becomes, in fact, a social drug that makes it even more dangerous.

In addition, many social factors are crucial when it comes to a choice to consume or not. It is possible to note that one of the most vivid examples is a stigma that exists around drug use and abuse, which is most often called a stigma of addiction (Bagley, 2018). In other words, social stigma appears as social disapproval of a person because of stereotypical social characteristics that make this person different from others, “normal” people.

There are many examples of social stigma – commonly, they are related to gender, nation, culture, race, abilities, health, and so on. In terms of drug abuse, a stigma has a particularly adverse influence on a person, since it prevents him from trying to ask for help, which, in its turn, slows down the recovery. It is impossible to deny that adolescents are remarkably exposed to such social phenomena as stigmas and image, because, for them, socialization is one of the most vital processes in their self-development and self-understanding.

One more example of damaging social factors, which can be a result of the previous one, is the ambivalence of an addicted person. It appears when a person desires to start the recovery but holds himself back because of other robust feelings, such as shame and fear of being judged. According to Bagley (2018), it can also slow down the process, making it less effective and more time-consuming, since a person can start the therapy but avoid coming to the next session. In such cases, it is utterly complicated to reach positive results. The family’s support is of great importance, as it can help to reduce the pressure of social stigma and to sort out ambivalent feelings.

Help and Treatment

Currently, many helping centres can also help to ease some social issues to help to lessen the pressure. For instance, these organizations can help to deal with basic needs, such as housing and employment or school issues. The main challenge of such institutions is to convey to an addicted person that there is nothing wrong with his state, and it is not a shame to try to gain help.

What is more, it is also significant to note that, apart from social factors, some personal, psychological issues can affect an addicted person in a harmful way. For instance, it can be a fear to accept the addiction as a disease and connected anxiety that the treatment will last for the whole life. It seems to be irrational, but, especially for a teenager, it can be an utterly complicated inner fight. Moreover, it is significant to note that most people with already existing life troubles tend to abuse drugs and become addicted. Therefore, they may have serious trust issues or issues around communication, which will also inevitably influence the recovery process.

For such a category of addicted people, to start to communicate with a specialist, to begin to open up and trust this person is an utterly energy-consuming and complicated challenge. It is also significant to note that adolescents are experiencing everything more sensitively because of their age, and, consequently, they are much harder to deal with. Therefore, therapy for these people can be particularly complex and considerably longer.

Auspiciously enough, nowadays, there are many organizations and government programs aimed at helping addicted people to recover. For instance, there is a company called “Truth Initiative,” which produces a series of social ads that are focused on showing various addictions inside out. Decades ago, they managed to persuade teenagers to stop smoking, successfully running their anti-smoking campaign (Rosenberg, 2020).

Nowadays, these truth ads are concentrating on opioid abuse and addiction. So far, it is hard to evaluate the success of this campaign. However, the anti-smoking actions presented impressive results, as there was a remarkable reduction in the percentage of smoking teenagers. The main challenge here is to raise the awareness of how hazardous the addiction can be by explaining to adolescents its mechanism and prevalence.

As was mentioned before, the recovery process is utterly complicated in any case, especially for young people since they are under the considerable impact of their age and other social and psychological factors. It is also possible to note that if helping organizations manage to reach the minds of adolescents, it will be attainable to convey the message that avoiding addiction may be much more convenient than overcoming it. Therefore, it is particularly essential to research the issue of drug consumption and abuse among teenagers and to invent and develop specific programs aimed at helping them.


To sum everything mentioned above up, it is significant to highlight the following points. Firstly, dealing with adolescents in terms of drug consumption and abuse, it is essential to take their age into account, since they are remarkably exposed to various life factors and their impacts.

These factors can robustly influence even mature adults, so, in the case of adolescents, the risks are higher. Secondly, the point that makes teenagers even more vulnerable and, consequently, more susceptible to drug consumption is social pressure and psychological issues. In other words, drug abuse can be a result of peer pressure, adverse influence, and mental disorders. However, it is also crucial not to confuse the sole impact of these factors on young adults and their results, which can be similar to those of drug consumption and abuse.

Sometimes, adolescents can be experiencing life ordeals or psychological disorders, which can result in the same symptoms, although accusing them of drug abuse, in this case, can be particularly damaging. Last but not least, in case of detected drug addiction, it is essential to create a friendly environment and express support as apparently as possible. One of the key factors helping addicted people go through the recovery process successfully is support from family. It is utterly significant to make them feel accepted and understood. It can help to make the right choice and start recovery.

In addition, there is no doubt that further studies on the issue are to be done, and more debates between social and government departments are to be conducted. Besides, many problems connected with drug consumption policies are to be discussed and negotiated. The tendency of raising public awareness of health and drug abuse through the specific ads campaign is an excellent example of innovative and correctly functioning methods to reduce adverse drug effects on nowadays’ society.


Availability of alcoholic beverages to underaged, offenses Act of 2010, Pub. L. 1985, c.311, s.1; amended 1995, c.31. Web.

Bagley, S. (2018). Adolescent substance use, addiction, and treatment. Web.

Curtin, S. C., Tejada-Vera, B., & Warmer, M. (2017). Drug overdose deaths among adolescents aged 15-19 in the United States: 1999-2015. NCHS Data Brief, (282), 1-8.

Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. (2014). Confronting New Jersey’s new drug problem: A strategic action plan to address a burgeoning heroin/opiate epidemic among adolescents and young adults. Web.

The NIDA Blog Team. (2018). Teens’ drug use is lower than ever (mostly). Web.

Office of Adolescent Health. (2019). Promote mental health and prevent substance use in teens. Web.

Pagliaro, A. M., & Pagliaro, L. A. (2019). Child and adolescent drug and substance abuse: A comprehensive reference guide. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Rosenberg, T. (2020). Weaponizing truth against opioids. The New York Times. Web.

Seligman, M. E.P., Romer, D., Gur, R. E., Hendin, H., Walsh, B. T., Evans, D. L., … O’Brien, C. P. (Eds.). (2017). Treating and preventing adolescent mental health disorders: What we know and what we don’t know. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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"Drug Abuse as a Public Health Menace in Adolescents." NerdyTom, 12 Feb. 2022, nerdytom.com/drug-abuse-as-a-public-health-menace-in-adolescents/.

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