Use of Illicit or Illegal, Prescription, Household, or Toxic Substances

One of the most common, and most dangerous, of adolescents’ risky behaviors is their use of illicit drugs. Illicit drugs include marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or psychotherapeutic medications not taken under a health provider’s supervision (U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, 2010).  (As used here, the illicit drug category does not include alcohol, tobacco and marijuana).

Adolescents are especially vulnerable to the damaging effects of drug use, because their brains are still developing (Casey, Jones, & Hare, 2008).  Use of illicit drugs is associated with many harmful behaviors and can cause both short- and long-term health problems. It is difficult to generalize about what level of use is harmful, since effects vary by individual, and many illicit drugs have no standardized “dosage.”  However, adolescents who use illicit drugs are more likely than are other adolescents to engage in risky sexual behavior (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2002), to be involved in delinquency and crime (Huizinga, Loeber, Thornberry, & Cothern, 2000; Windle & Mason, 2004), and to have a drug problem in the future (Office of National Drug Control Policy, no date).   Additionally, students using illicit drugs often have problems in school, although it is difficult to determine which comes first—the drug use or the school problems. These difficulties include low attendance, poor academic performance, and a greater likelihood of dropping out or being expelled (McCluskey, Krohn, Lizotte, & Rodriguez, 2002; National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 2001).   Youth who use illicit drugs are also more likely to have poor relationships with their families and peers (Office of National Drug Control Policy, no date). 

Illicit drug use jeopardizes health and well-being in many ways.  Numerous physical problems are associated with illicit drug use, depending on the type of drug used.  These problems can include abnormal heart rates, seizures, kidney failure, respiratory failure, and brain damage (Office of National Drug Control Policy, no date).   Additionally, youth who use illicit drugs have higher death rates than do their peers, because of increased risk of injuries (such as those resulting from car crashes), suicide, homicide, and illness (Crowe & Bilchik, 1998).  Many mental health disorders are also linked to illicit drug use, including depression, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, developmental lags, delusions, and mood disturbances(Crowe & Bilchik, 1998).  

One may refer to NSDUH data to identify aggregate-level benchmarks for youth aged 12 to 17. For example, 2009 NSDUH data suggest that, among 9th graders, the prevalence of 30-day use of any illicit or illegal drug use is about 10 percent.  Referring to this data, programs working with this age group may aim for no more than 7.5 percent, for example, of participants in the program reporting illicit or illegal drug use in the past 30 days. 

It is reasonable to expect that the percent of youth reporting illicit or illegal drug use in the past 30 days will increase over time, since older youth are more likely to use. The best way to gauge your program’s success is therefore to compare with data for the same age group from a source like the NSDUH. If you find that the percent of youth who report recent illicit or illegal drug increases significantly while in your program, however, you may want to assess the fidelity and quality of service delivery (see Improve Service Delivery).

Surveys/Assessments

 

Sources Cited

U.S. Department of Health and Human Service. (2010). Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Volume I. summary of national findings. Retrieved February 16, 2011, from http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/NSDUH/2k9NSDUH/2k9ResultsP.pdf

Casey, B. J., Jones, R. M., & Hare, T. A. (2008). The adolescent brain.  Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1124, 111-126.

Kaiser Family Foundation. (2002). Substance use and risky sexual behavior: Attitudes and practices among adolescents and young adults. Washington, DC: Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved February 25, 2011, from http://www.kff.org/youthhivstds/loader.cfm?url=/commonspot/security/getfile.cfm&PageID=14907 

Huizinga, D., Loeber, R., Thornberry, T. P., & Cothern, L. (2000). Co-occurrence of delinquency and other problem behaviors. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Retrieved February 25, 2011, from http://www.ncjrs.gov/html/ojjdp/jjbul2000_11_3/contents.html

Windle, M., & Mason, W. A. (2004). General and specific predictors of behavioral and emotional problems among adolescents. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 12(1), 49-62.

Office of National Drug Control Policy. Juveniles & drugs: Facts & Figures. Retrieved February 25, 2011, from http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/drugfact/juveniles/juvenile_drugs_ff.html

McCluskey, C. P., Krohn, M. D., Lizotte, A. J., & Rodriguez, M. L. (2002). Early substance use and school achievement: An examination of latino, white, and african american youth.  Journal of Drug Issues, 32(3), 921-943.

National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. (2001). Malignant neglect: Substance abuse and America's schools. New York, NY: Columbia University. Retrieved February 25, 2011, from http://www.omegalabs.net/media/documents/pdf/MalNeglect.pdf

Crowe, A. H., & Bilchik, S. (1998). Drug identification and testing summary. Washington, D.C.: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Retrieved February 25, 2011.

Additional Resources

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): NIDA for Teens site (http://teens.drugabuse.gov)

Child Trends.  (2010).  Child Trends DataBank.  Substance-free youth.  Retrieved from http://childtrendsdatabank.org/alphalist?q=node/141