Supportive Relationships Can Help Prevent Teen Substance Misuse

Teen Health Connection — April 5, 2019 — 4 min read
Editor’s Note: For this blog post, we reached out to Teen Health Connection, a healthcare practice in Charlotte, N.C., for their expertise on teens and substance use and misuse. Teen Health Connection provides medical and mental health care as well as prevention and health education services for adolescents ages 11 to 22.

While the issue of substance use is frequently discussed within adult populations, adolescence, in particular, is a developmental time period when effective prevention and intervention can have the most life-long impact. The issue of adolescent substance use is prevalent in our own Charlotte community and all providers, parents, teachers, and community and teen leaders are needed to address this common problem.

Locally, among high school students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS):
  • 33.7% of 12th graders report current use of alcohol and 15.8% report binge-drinking in the past 30 days
  • 40.1% of CMS high school students have used marijuana in their lifetime, with 20.9% of them currently using marijuana
  • 15.9% of CMS high school students have used prescription pain medicine differently than or without a doctor’s prescription, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
 According to research, as risk factors increase, other negative behaviors can also increase, however, when protective factors are present in a youth’s life, they can greatly reduce the risk of youth using substances.

For teens, risk factors include, a family history of drug or alcohol problems, close friends who use drugs or alcohol, early first use, mental health disorders, problems in school, and neighborhood poverty and violence, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA). Protective factors include strong family bonds, supportive relationships at school, in the community, or with a religious or spiritual organization, academic success, sports participation, and daily guidance or parental support.

As substance use is often linked with other factors, such as trauma, depression and various mental health issues, early identification and treatment can help prevent ongoing use and reduce the negative consequences of addiction before they occur. As many as 59% of teens diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will, at some point, develop a substance use problem, and conversely, 65% of all teens with a substance use disorder also have a mental health or behavioral disorder, according to a report issued by the National Institute of Justice . Prevention strategies targeting the root of the problem are essential to curb drug use and help people lead healthier lives. SAMHSA states that each dollar invested in an evidence-based prevention program can reduce costs related to substance use disorders by an average of $18.

At Teen Health Connection, we understand the importance of prevention, supportive families and peer groups, and health and wellbeing by working with the whole child in a comprehensive setting. The practice of using the Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) tool () is done at every new patient physical, as well as the CRAFFT screening tool that asks teens to evaluate their alcohol and substance use. Providers also screen for factors such as trauma, depression, anxiety, and other factors linked with substance use.

Recognizing the power of prevention, Teen Health Connection promotes safe and healthy communities through several teen-led programs, including:
  • Youth Drug Free Coalition – aimed at preventing underage drinking and prescription drug misuse in Mecklenburg County.
  • Teen Advisory Board (TAB) – serves as youth sector representatives on the agency’s Youth Drug Free Coalition (YDFC) and contributes to community prevention efforts through Public Service Announcements, billboards and leadership development activities.
  • Empower: Teen Leadership Summit – a week-long leadership summit aimed at educating and empowering teens to remain alcohol, tobacco and other drug free.
There are many effective evidence-based treatments for youth with substance use issues, including counseling, specialized treatments for youth with mental health issues, long-term follow-up and medical assistance to address withdrawal symptoms, according to research. With any treatment, physical and mental health services should be included, and, to be most effective, should involve the whole family, and/or people close to the youth.

The teen years can be very difficult. Teen-led, adult-guided prevention efforts provide our communities with critical tools to address the epidemic of substance misuse and abuse across the nation, and an integrated fabric of prevention, treatment, and healthcare resources is necessary. Through community-based efforts involving youth, parents, educators, and government officers, we can strengthen the support systems that deter young people from drug consumption and improve both academic performance and overall health and well-being.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction and needs help, there is help.
  • Call 911 for medical emergencies
  • Call our Access and Crisis line 24/7 at 1-800-939-5911
  • Call the 24/7 National Drug helpline at 1-888-633-3239

This blog comes from Teen Health Connection, a healthcare practice in Charlotte, N.C., and was written by Sonja Payne and Amber Jones with Teen Health Connection. Payne works on the Research and Evaluation team at Teen Health Connection and received her Master of Social Work from the University of South Carolina. Jones works on the Health Education team at Teen Health Connection and received her Bachelor of Science degrees in psychology and criminology from Florida State University.
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