Welcome to MSAAP

Do you suspect that your child has a problem with alcohol and/or drugs?

What is substance use/abuse?

  • Substance use has become an increasingly growing problem in children and adolescents in the United States.2 While the consumption of any substances (including alcohol, illegal drugs, or inappropriate use of unprescribed prescription medication) is considered substance use, there are several different levels of substance use that are considered disordered, including: substance dependence, substance abuse, substance intoxication, and substance withdrawal.1
    • Substance dependence occurs when an individual continues using an illegal substance (as described above), even though the substance use is causing significant distress or concerns for that individual. These concerns may include: increased tolerance, withdrawal symptoms (see below), need to take larger amounts to get similar effects, inability to cut down use of the substance, and spending a great deal of time trying to obtain the substance which often leads to decrease in other daily activities.
    • Substance abuse occurs when an individual's substance use frequently gets in the way of fulfilling his or her obligations (e.g., school, family), often puts the individual in danger (i.e., driving under the influence), use of the substance leads to legal problems (i.e., arrests for disorderly conduct), and/or frequently causes social or interpersonal problems for the individual (i.e., physical fights or arguments about use of the substance).
    • Substance intoxication occurs when an individual has ingested so much of a substance that they develop changes in their behaviors or mental state, such as: frequent mood swings or mood changes, impaired judgment, difficulty in social situations, difficulties in school performance, and/or extreme irritability. It is important to note that for a diagnosis of substance intoxication, the changes mentioned above must be reversible and solely due to the use of the substance (and not another condition).
    • Substance withdrawal occurs when an individual stops using a substance that he or she has been using in large doses for a long time, and behavior and physiological changes result. The types of changes seen in substance withdrawal depend on the substance used, but are often the opposite of the types of changes seen in substance intoxication (listed above).
  • Some common physical symptoms of substance related disorders include: increase in blood pressure, higher rates of breathing, or increased body temperature. However, depending on the type of substance used, physical symptoms may appear the opposite to these (e.g., decreased blood pressure, breathing rate, and/or body temperature). Therefore, it is important to note which substance(s) have been used if an individual requires help as a result of using a substance.

How common is substance use in children and adolescents?

  • A survey completed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2000 estimated that over 2 million adolescents ages 12 to 17 years had tried inhalants (8.9% of adolescents in the United States).2
  • This same SAMHSA study in 2000 found that rates of illegal drug use was similar in boys and girls, but that boys were more likely to use marijuana (7.7% of boys, 6.6% of girls), girls were more likely to use prescription medication (3.3% of girls, 2,7% of boys).2
  • Additionally, in the year 2000, SAMHSA estimated that out of adolescents who admitted to being "heavy drinkers," over 65% also used illegal drugs. In comparison, out of adolescents who reported that they did not drink alcohol, only 4.2% reportedly used illegal drugs. However, 42.7% of adolescents who reported smoking cigarettes used illegal drugs (compared to only 4.6% of adolescents who did not smoke cigarettes).2
  • SAMHSA reported that nearly half (46.6%) of children and adolescents age 12 years and older currently stated that they drink alcohol (approximately 104 million individuals). “Heavy drinking” was reported by 5.6% of this group (12.6 million individuals).2
  • Boys ages 12 to 20 years were more likely than girls to report binge drinking (21.3% of boys, 15.9% of girls).2
  • Additionally, in a group of adolescents ages 18 to 25 years, almost 20% (19.9%) admitted to having driven under the influence of alcohol in the year 2000 alone.2
  • According to a 2006 study, 47% of children who began drinking before the age of 14 years became alcohol dependent. In comparison, only 9% of adults who began drinking at age 21 or older became alcohol dependent.3

What can I do if my child has been diagnosed with substance use/abuse?

1American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed. rev.). Washington, D. C.: Author.
2Retrieved from http://www.adolescent-substance-abuse.com/statistics-drug-abuse.html, March 2, 2009.
3Hingson, R. W., Hereen, T., & Winter, M. R. (2006). Age at drinking onset and alcohol dependence: Age at onset, duration, and severity. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 160, 739-746.

Disclaimers | Return to MSAAP Home Page