Use and abuse of drugs and alcohol by teens is very common and can have serious consequences. Recurrent adolescent substance use contributes to personal distress, poor school performance, short and long term health problems, relationship difficulties, and involvement in antisocial activities.
Some teenagers will become dependent or "addicted." They may use more than they planned, struggle with cutting down or stopping use, or give up important activities in their lives. Some may even become tolerant (needing more of the substance to achieve the same effect) and experience withdrawal when they stop use.
Teenagers who are simply experimenting with alcohol or drugs can die or suffer severe injuries,acquire HIV or other infections, or become pregnant due to engaging in risky behaviors while under the influence of the substance.
Fortunately, prevention and treatment can make a difference. We know that the development of a substance use disorder is complex, involving interactions between biological and environmental risk factors. Teenagers who have substance use disorder can also have one or more psychiatric disorders. This knowledge has led to the development of effective ways to intervene. Parents and other concerned adults can help to bring science-based prevention strategies to their homes and communities. They can be alert to signs of substance abuse, and seek treatments that can help.
The goal of this resource center is to offer parents, doctors and other clinicians with scientific information about the prevention and treatment of adolescent substance abuse.
Choose a topic:
Glossary of Symptoms
Alcohol and Drug Abuse
- What are the signs of substance abuse?
- How can parents tell the difference between experimentation and a "real problem" with substance abuse?
- What should parents do first if they think their adolescent has a substance abuse problem?
- How is adolescent substance abuse treated?
- Is there anything that parents can do to prevent substance abuse?
- What is the connection between psychiatric disorders and substance abuse?
- Do drug tests have a role in adolescent substance use treatment?
AACAP's Facts for Families provide concise up-to-date information on issues that affect children, teenagers and their families.
Seven short video clips detailing substance abuse prevention, treatment and how it connects with mental illnesses.
AACAP Practice Parameters
Considered resources for experts, mental health professionals and physicians, AACAP's Practice Parameters were developed to guide clinical decision making. They show the best treatments and the range of treatment options available to families living with childhood and adolescent mental illness.
AACAP Policy StatementsMedical Marijuana Policy Statement
Substance Abuse Rating Scales
This acronym stands for a well-tested, brief screening tool for adolescent substance abuse. It is available at no charge.
This is a comprehensive, biopsychosocial assessment tool for use on adolescents and adults that includes a substance use section, with items that address level-of-care needs (American Society of Addiction critera) and JCAHO-based treatment planning. A license is required to use this tool.
SAMHSA's website includes a searchable database for treatment facilities in the United States: www.samhsa.gov/treatment/.
The federally funded websites listed below contain a wealth of information on prevention, evidence-based treatment, research, education materials and statistics related to adolescent substance use.
- Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence: 2008 Update
- Preventing Drug Abuse Among Children and Adolescents: A Research-Based Guide
- Monitoring the Future
- NIDA Information Charts
Resources for Research Opportunities in Substance Use Treatment and Prevention
The Jeanne Spurlock Research Fellowship in Substance Use and Addiction for Minority Medical Students provides a stipend-supported summer research experience. It is sponsored by AACAP with support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
The AACAP-NIDA K12 Career Development Award is a program currently in the third cycle of training qualified child and adolescent psychiatrists to become independent investigators in mental health and addictions.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has long been a primary source for funding and dissemination of high quality research on drug abuse and addiction. The website contains a wealth of information divided into sections geared toward researchers, health care providers, youth, parents and teachers.
AACAP provides substance use related educational activities at the Annual Meeting. Click here to search the Annual Meeting Sessions
The NIDA and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) websites, listed above, are also excellent resources for practitioners, parents and youth seeking factual information about the causes, prevention and treatment of substance use disorders. The organizations listed below are good resources for conferences and other training activities featuring evidence-based treatment and prevention of substance use.
Getting help is the most important thing that parents can do for children and adolescents with a mental health concern. Parents should try to find a mental health professional with advanced training and experience evaluating and treating children and adolescents with substance abuse problems. Also, it is important to find a comfortable match between your child, your family and the mental health professional.
A child and adolescent psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders that affect children and adolescents. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have completed four years of medical school, and at least three years of residency training in medicine, neurology, or general psychiatry with adults, and two years of additional training in psychiatric work with children and adolescents.
To learn about accessing child and adolescent psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, please read Where To Find Help For Your Child.
Oftentimes, parents are unsure when to seek a referral to a child and adolescent psychiatrist. For more information on when to seek a referral, please click here.