Drug Abuse Among Teenagers and College Students

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 5
Words: 1628
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: Bachelor


This study explores the association between early initiators and psychoactive substance use predisposing young adults and adolescents to drug abuse. It has utilized five articles that have prospectively discussed how early initiators, such as a family history of drug use and behavioral and environmental factors, can increase young adults’ and adolescents’ risks for developing problematic substance use. The scholarly journals used to examine the prevalence of drug abuse among this population were retrieved from Psych Info, PubMed, and Google Scholar databases. The evaluation and assessment of these sources also indicate a significant link between late initiators and drug use. These include peer pressure, excess freedom, academic pressure, and parental neglect. In this case, early initiators are more predisposed to developing drug use disorders and delinquent behaviors compared to late imitators. The data suggest that regular drug screening of young adults and adolescents may create an opportunity for early intervention programs.

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Different studies have sought the cause of substance addiction among teenagers and young adults to initiate preventive measures. Researchers have indicated that early initiators of drug use may include a family history of substance use and psychological and behavioral issues (Meda et al., 2017; Kingston et al., 2017). A study by Brown et al. (2020) also hypothesizes that college settings can make young adults vulnerable to drug abuse. Approximately 4 of 5 teenagers in college consume alcohol and half of this group binge drink. Marijuana and alcohol are the most used substance of choice, with 58% of this population reporting using both substances concurrently (Meda et al., 2017). Drug among teenagers and college students is detrimental to their academic performance and social functioning.

Research Gap and Significance of the Study

Although numerous early initiators of drug use have been established, little study has been conducted to identify situational factors involved in teenagers’ initial non-prescribed usage of psychoactive drugs. Comprehending adolescents’ views of what motivates them to start using drugs, the circumstances under which they begin substance abuse, and their first reactions may be essential in understanding the causes of drug use mentioned above. The significance of this review is that it will provide new perspectives into early initiators of psychoactive substances and their impacts to help develop strategies to delay drug use among vulnerable young adults and adolescents.


Research articles incorporated in this literature review consist of quantitative and cohort studies. The keywords used in the search included drug abuse, prescription misuse, young adults, addiction, illicit substance, and college students. The searches were performed using online databases, such as Psych Info, PubMed, and Google Scholar, to gather relevant information. A total of 16 articles were generated from this process. The five articles considered suitable for this review were selected using inclusion and exclusion criteria. This method helped in sourcing empirical evidence in their full text for assessment and review by identifying sources that did not meet this threshold. These journals were used due to their year of publication, type of research, format, or in-depth studies in the field. Other articles were excluded since they were more than five years old. In addition, the credibility of these sources was evaluated based on the authors’ authority or expertise in the field.


The participants were randomly recruited from diverse populations and included Caucasians, Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, and other multi-racial/ethnic groups. The eligibility to participate in these studies required the subjects to be between the ages of 12 to 28. The participants were either high school students, undergraduate college students, or school dropouts. In addition, the groups were from urban, suburban, and rural areas with various socioeconomic settings. Lastly, the samples included individuals who had ever used alcohol, marijuana, e-cigarettes, and other substances not prescribed to them by a physician.


Given that most participants who enlisted for these studies were young adults, the researchers only obtained their consent, not their parent’s. All subjects provided both written and verbal consent before being interviewed. The researchers also received participants’ approval to obtain their GPAs each school term of the study. No consent forms were gathered to protect the subjects’ confidentiality. In other cases, participants’ records were destroyed upon completing the study. In addition, some of these studies were approved by either institutional review boards or government agencies.


The participants were made aware of the studies through invitations and flyers at local businesses and school events specific to freshmen. Other participants were directed to an online survey where they reviewed and completed online clinical and demographic substance use questionnaires to assess lifetime use of drugs, reasons for use, prevalence, and predictors of psychoactive substances. Respondents were also asked the number of times they used marijuana or alcohol in the past 30 days and the number of drinks they had on each occasion. Some participants were awarded between $15 to $25 compensation for their contribution and an extra $5 for giving salivary DNA.

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Data Analysis

Some of the statistical analyses were performed using the SPSS software. This was vital in analyzing survey data collected during the online survey and assessing sample characteristics. MAXQDA qualitative software was used to evaluate interviews and note patterns. In this case, those who initiated drug use before joining a high school or college were compared to themes identified in the surveys of individuals who started drug use while in school or later. In addition, both analysis and regression models were used together to examine the relationships between variables or direct and indirect effects of family history and participants’ risk of developing a substance use disorder. Other researchers used the thematic analysis method to analyze interview transcripts to identify common themes across the group of subjects.


The study sought to determine substance abuse’s prevalence, causes, and effects among teenagers and college students. It was established that adolescents and young adults mostly abuse alcohol and marijuana, with 10.7 percent of individuals aged 18 and 25 years developing binge drinking (Brown et al., 2017). Family drug use or psychopathy increases an adolescent’s risk of substance abuse. This has been linked to genetics and environmental factors.

Students with a family history of alcohol use have a higher risk of initiating problematic drug use during college due to peer influence, lack of parental supervision, and stressful academic engagements. The results are consistent with Kingston et al.’s (2017) article, which shows that family and environmental factors influence adolescents who misuse drugs at an early age. Notably, such adolescents may have been raised by parents who engaged in increased drug use.

Substance abuse among adolescents has adverse effects on health and academics. In this context, alcohol and drug misuse negatively impacts mental and social functioning (Mada et al., 2017; Kingston et al., 2017). Substance abuse alters the brain structure resulting in impaired memory and decision-making skills. It also causes cognitive inhibition, poor attention, and reduced reasoning, which are vital skills in learning. Likewise, adolescents who abuse drugs have disturbed sleep patterns, reduced studying motivation, and may skip classes resulting in poor academic results (Meda et al., 2017; Schepis et al., 2018).

The impact of substance use is highly severe, particularly among the early initiators compared to late initiators. Adolescents who initiate substance use before 13 or 14 years risk increased psychosocial effects and are more likely to have drug use disorders. They are also more susceptible to delinquent and risky behaviors such as physical fights and unsafe driving (Kingston et al., 2017). Early initiators are more predisposed to depression and other mental disorders and have also reported high cases of suicide attempts and ideations compared to late initiators.

The study also highlights that adolescents’ prescription drug misuse (PDM) depends on educational status and accomplishment. Increased rates of PDM, nonmedical misuse, and medical misuse are prevalent among adolescents who have dropped out of school or those with challenges adjusting to school. High school dropouts reported more opioid-PDM cases and related effects than college students and graduates (Schepis et al., 2018). Alternatively, college students showed higher stimulant-PDM. The increased stimulant-PDM among college students has been connected to the perceived educational benefits of stimulants (Kenne et al., 2017). Other findings conclude that a growing number of adolescents use electronic cigarettes to vaporize cannabis which predisposes them to other illicit drugs (Schepis et al., 2018). Most college students perceive that using drugs such as cannabis is safer and more convenient if vaporized compared to when it is combusted.

Most articles only focused on a small area of the study; therefore, additional and more conclusive research regarding substance abuse among adolescents is needed. Further studies should consider additional social issues like socioeconomic status, gender, and race to determine how they influence substance abuse among the youth. The generalizability of the findings is limited because, in some studies, the data was collected from one or two institutions. Hence, future research needs to expand the work to many institutions worldwide. Despite its limitations, this study provides several valuable insights on preventing drug abuse among adolescents and young adults. Regular substance use screenings among high school and college students may help offer an opportunity for early intervention and education programs to assist the youth in fighting against drugs.

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Substance use is a growing social concern among adolescents and college students. The increased drug use among the youth has been linked to a family history of alcohol and drug use and environmental factors. Substance abuse poses adverse effects on mental health and academic performance. It also increases the propensity for risky and delinquent behaviors among adolescents. The gap in the study is that most research is focused on examining the impacts of alcohol, marijuana, and prescription medicine on adolescents separately instead of investigating the combined effects of these drugs on young people. Therefore, future studies should evaluate the cumulative effects of different drug substances and their impact on adolescents.


Brown, A., España, R., Benca-Bachman, C., Welsh, J., & Palmer, R. (2020). Adolescent behavioral characteristics mediate familial effects on alcohol use and problems in college-bound students. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, 14, 117822182097092. Web.

Kenne, D., Fischbein, R., Tan, A., & Banks, M. (2017). The use of substances other than nicotine in electronic cigarettes among college students. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, 11, 117822181773373. Web.

Kingston, S., Rose, M., Cohen-Serrins, J., & Knight, E. (2017). A qualitative study of the context of child and adolescent substance use initiation and patterns of use in the first year for early and later initiators. PLOS ONE, 12(1), e0170794. Web.

Meda, S., Gueorguieva, R., Pittman, B., Rosen, R., Aslanzadeh, F., & Tennen, H. et al. (2017). Longitudinal influence of alcohol and marijuana use on academic performance in college students. PLOS ONE, 12(3), e0172213. Web.

Schepis, T., Teter, C., & McCabe, S. (2018). Prescription drug use, misuse, and related substance use disorder symptoms vary by educational status and attainment in U.S. adolescents and young adults. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 189, 172-177. Web.