Adolescents and Substance Abuse


Alcohol and drug-related problems are serious health issues affecting almost every Pennsylvania community and family in some way, and the effect on adolescents can be particularly serious. Friends may be drinking or using illegal drugs. Family members may be struggling with addiction. In addition, due to developmental changes occurring in the brain, adolescents can be much more susceptible to developing problems with drugs and alcohol. Mental health issues also may coincide with substance use problems, with recent studies suggesting that anxiety is a particular area of concern for adolescents.

On average, over 4,000 Pennsylvania adolescents from ages 15-17 are admitted to state-funded drug and alcohol treatment programs each year. By arming themselves with the latest scientific information about drugs and alcohol, as well as how addiction develops, adolescents can make more informed decisions and find out when and where to get help if they need it. Access resources within the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, or click on the links below for additional information:


Youth with mental health conditions are also at risk for experimenting with substances to self-treat their psychological discomfort. This can be especially true when they have unwanted side effects to medication or their conditions are untreated or unsuccessfully treated. Some youth may have stopped taking their medication because they don’t want to be different or sick. Youth may not understand why they feel the way they do, and they may discover that drinking or taking drugs alleviates their discomfort. For some youth, this use can progress to depend¬ence and addiction.

  • Find support: You are not alone. Others have been where you are and can guide you to where you are going. They can walk alongside you.
  • Obtain an assessment: Get your youth an in-depth, integrated, trauma-informed substance use and mental health assessment.
  • Decide what is best for your family: Determine the best course of action given the identified needs of your family.
  • Ask questions: Screen treatment providers to find out whether they can meet your youth and family’s needs.
  • Investigate costs and coverage: Find out as much as you can about the costs and what is covered by your health care plan.
  • Plan for after treatment: Prepare an “after” plan for ongoing healing and health maintenance after co-occurring treatment.

NIDA for Teens – PeerX: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
A comprehensive website dedicated to helping teens get the information they need to make decisions about out drugs and alcohol.

Too Smart to Start
Resources to help youth, families, educators, and communities prevent underage alcohol use and its related problems, from SAMHSA.

Tips for Teens Publications
Pamphlets from SAMHSA that give the facts on various substances of abuse.

A program for teens whose loved ones are suffering from alcohol or drug disorders.
To locate a meeting

Quotes from teens in recovery

(Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs)