|While virtually all children have the
potential for becoming substance abusers, we now know that some youngsters are at
much greater risk of becoming seriously involved than others. Identifying these
“high risk” children early may help to avert their developing substance abuse
problems. Alerting your young patients and their parents to the possibility of developing
problems may deter or delay substance use and make early detection more likely.
Factors for Substance Use, Abuse and Dependence
Both animal and human research provide evidence that abused substances derive their
dependency producing properties from their reinforcing effects on the Central Nervous
System. If a dependence producing substance is taken often enough and in large enough
quantities, most people will become dependent on it. However, there are also large
individual differences in susceptibility to the development of a substance use disorder.
Differences in Susceptibility
The basis of these differences is probably both biological and psychosocial. Although a
detailed technical discussion is beyond the scope of this website, a brief review of the
known “risk factors” for children and adolescents becoming substance abusers may
be helpful in making you aware of the increased possibility that a young person has or is
likely to develop drug-related problems. Risk factors are patient (and/or family)
characteristics associated with a significant likelihood of developing specific problems.
Presence of one or more of those factors associated with drug abuse does not, of course,
mean the patient will invariably become a drug abuser. Moreover, the absence of such risk
factors provides no assurance that a particular child is not, or will not become, a drug
user. Given the extent of substance abuse in our contemporary culture, virtually any young
person can become involved. The risk factors described here are based on studies of
children and adolescents.
Children whose friends (and/or siblings) smoke, drink or use other drugs are much more
likely to do so than those whose peers do not. Initiation into these activities is usually
through friends. The local drug “pusher” is far more likely to be a childs
acquaintance who wants to share the drug experience, or who “deals” as a way of
supporting his or her own drug use, than some mysterious stranger lurking near the school.
Achievement, social and developmental