Psychology of Substance Abuse in Adolescents

Adolescence is the period of transition from pubescence to maturity. Many concerns impede the normal cognitive development of teenagers, which encompass alcohol and drug abuse. In the course of this phase of development, there are several biological, social, as well as environmental factors that can prompt a persistent desire to abuse alcohol or drugs. Some of the risk factors that push adolescents to develop addictive problems are mild/grievous depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Subjective to substance abuse, adolescents could lack the capacity to achieve normal cognitive proficiencies essential to building up a proper self-identity. The education of adolescents and their parents could assist in dealing with substance abuse problems.


Adolescence signifies the phase of change from pubescence to maturity (Esposito-Smythers, Spirito, Kahler, Hunt, & Monti, 2011). At this stage, adolescents accept their fully grown bodies, gain adult manners of thinking, acquire higher independence from the family’s control, get more mature manners of associating with peers of either gender and start to form an identity. Many concerns could obstruct the normal cognitive development of adolescents in the course of this phase. One particular problem is alcohol and substance abuse (Esposito-Smythers et al., 2011). This is attributable to the fact that when adolescents decide to engage in substance abuse, the side-effects could avert further advancement with mature thinking, autonomy, adulthood, and general self-identity. Hence, this study aims to explain how teenagers develop substance abuse and the reasons behind such behavior, which affect adolescents in the course of this vital phase. Constant patterns of substance abuse during adolescence are indications that problems in the adolescents’ environments exist and require being tackled without delay.

Progress of Substance Abuse Troubles

No particular basis could be attributed entirely to substance abuse issues in adolescents. This problem builds up gradually and cannot be compared with full-scale abuse. In the course of adolescence, there are numerous biological, social as well as environmental aspects that can instigate a sharp desire to abuse alcohol or other substances. According to Shelton and van den Bree (2010), adolescents from homes typified by poor family conditions are at a greater risk of initiation of substance abuse. Other aspects that could lead to substance abuse among adolescents are when they perceive themselves as worthless, in case of detrimental parents-children correlations, when psychological support in the family fails, and when young people do not get social support and a feeling of belonging they require. If adolescents start substance abuse behaviors, they could as well encounter dissimilar risk factors related to their psychosomatic and physical wellbeing.

Risk Factors

Consistent with Walker, Neighbors, Rodriguez, Stephens, and Roffman (2011), adolescence marks a time when young people are more prone to taking part in health-risk conducts; taking alcohol is the most prevalent drug used. When adolescents get addicted to alcohol, bhang, cocaine, and heroin just to mention a few substances, they face numerous risk factors, which trigger symptoms of mild/grievous depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Adolescents also have a great chance of turning homeless because of the stress they face in their families. Subjected to poverty and the need for money to buy the substances, the youth engage in criminal activities, which lead to arrests and compelled rehabilitation. Girls are at risk of unwanted pregnancies, while both boys and girls are at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases because of unprotected sexual activities under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. There could also be instances of hospitalization and the requirement of psychiatric care because of the resulting depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Substance abuse can as well bring about premature deaths because of overdose, cardiac arrest, and stroke among other medical-related challenges. According to Hale and Viner (2012), the abuse of alcohol and other drugs along with suicidal thoughts normally happens among adolescents.

Theory of Cognitive Development

The risk factors that are related to substance abuse in adolescents harm their self-identity. Consistent with cognitive development theory by Piaget, crucial modifications arise in adolescents. In this process, they can become concerned regarding the connection between them and other individuals, who are referred to as the imaginary audience. In this regard, the adolescents will begin to get convinced that they are in the focus of everybody’s interests and considerations in life (Robey, Buckingham-Howes, Salmeron, Black, & Riggins, 2014). The adolescents will turn exceedingly self-conscious since they have a sense that the entire world is negatively evaluating each facet of their lives. Accordingly, adolescents would have difficulty solving problems since they will be anxious about satisfying the individuals that are supportive of them. Therefore, adolescents will become dependent on the opinions of other people when developing their intensities of self-worth, social support, and peer approval.

A different cognitive modification arising in adolescence is a personal fable, which develops when adolescents become convinced that other people are constantly deliberating about them and try to communicate with them a positive approach. In this regard, adolescents will have exaggerated attitudes to themselves since they believe that they are unequaled. Hence, at this phase of development, they could be ready to take risks since they consider themselves above common directives and outcomes. When such a deformed approach of thinking results in substance abuse, it could hinder adolescents from having healthy self-identity (Robey et al., 2014). This is attributable to the impacts of alcohol or other substances. Hence, adolescents will lack the capacity to attain normal cognitive proficiencies that are required to build up an appropriate self-identity. This is also the reason behind the importance of educating adolescents regarding the dangers of substance abuse, particularly before they engage in it.


Different interventions could be employed in the education of adolescents regarding the dangers of substance abuse. One way that could be executed in the course of the early phases of support is talk therapy (Hale & Viner, 2012). This could entail face-to-face or group therapy. Such an intervention technique could also give the chance of determining specific aspects that could result in a yearning to engage in substance use among adolescents. When established that several adolescents are facing concerns of low self-worth or self-confidence, they can be assisted to comprehend that they can become eminent since other people are not centered on them.

A different intervention method, which could be employed in the education of adolescents regarding the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse, is the hosting of frequent seminars, for instance, once a week. In the course of the seminars, the adolescents would be taught things such as unnecessary pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases due to unprotected sex, and deaths resulting from substance abuse or overdose. There would also be a selection of some adolescents proposed through therapists or heads of some given schools. This could be attributable to the fact that some adolescents could already be showing signs of the effects of substance abuse. Hence, the seminars could help the youths find that their present means of irrational deliberation and opinions have harmful consequences. Nevertheless, they would be persuaded that they still can change their manner of negative thinking before facing negative effects. Additionally, another intervention method would be educating the parents of these adolescents. This could be achieved by arranging seminars for the parents only. In the course of such seminars, some information could be offered through videos, pamphlets having contact details for substance abuse organizations, and statistical information (Hale & Viner, 2012).


This paper sought to discuss how and why engaging in substance abuse can harm and obstruct suitable cognitive development among adolescents. A critical concern that could affect cognitive development is adolescents developing addiction in the course of their mental and physical development. This leads to preventing further development related to mature thinking, autonomy, adulthood, and self-identity. Substance abuse is also associated with some influential aspects such as poverty that could result in alcohol and drug abuse amid adolescents, risk factors that adolescents could encounter when generating addictive problems, and harmful effects on self-identity. Education of both the adolescents and their parents is one of the interventions that could deal with substance abuse and prevent it in the course of adolescence.


Esposito-Smythers, C., Spirito, A., Kahler, C. W., Hunt, J., & Monti, P. (2011). Treatment of co-occurring substance abuse and suicidality among adolescents: A randomized trial. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology79(6), 728.

Hale, D. R., & Viner, R. M. (2012). Policy responses to multiple risk behaviors in adolescents. Journal of public health34(1), 11-19.

Robey, A., Buckingham-Howes, S., Salmeron, B. J., Black, M. M., & Riggins, T. (2014). Relations among prospective memory, cognitive abilities, and brain structure in adolescents who vary in prenatal drug exposure. Journal of experimental child psychology127(1), 144-162.

Shelton, K. H., & van den Bree, M. (2010). The moderating effects of pubertal timing on the longitudinal associations between parent-child relationship quality and adolescent substance use. Journal of Research on Adolescence20(4), 1044-1064.

Walker, D. D., Neighbors, C., Rodriguez, L. M., Stephens, R. S., & Roffman, R. A. (2011). Social norms and self-efficacy among heavy using adolescent marijuana smokers. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors25(4), 727.

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