Self Medicating and Substance Abuse among Youth


Self Medicating and Substance Abuse among Youth

Self-medicating and substance abuse is a fundamental concern for youth worldwide. The incident and prevalence of substance abuse is widely documented in scholarly literature. Previous literature has largely focused on psychological problems, socioeconomic status, and peer pressure as major triggers of substance abuse among persons under the age of 21 years (Barrett, 2006; Miller, 2000). However, literature linking family structure and substance abuse among these youth is limiting.

Family is an important supportive setting for the young people growing. Some researchers have attempted to show that the type of family structure determines the likelihood of a young person to abuse substances (Barrett, 2006).  In a Youth Risk Behavior Survey, using participants from the CDC Middle School, Paxton, Valois, & Drane (2007) investigated the link between family structure and substance use. 2,138 students were sampled from public middle school in a southern state. The findings revealed that family structure had a stronger relationship with substance use especially for Caucasians, as opposed to African American adolescents. Most Caucasian participants living in cohabited family households reported substance use as compared to those living in classic two-parent households. Similar results that dual-parent households were least likely to use drugs compared to single-parent youth was found by Hemovich, Lac, & Crano (2011) in a multivariate analyses from the National Survey of Parents and Youth. The research implicated the provision of special attention to adolescents transiting into new family structures, especially now that divorce rates seem to be on the rise.  In a different study, Galliher, Evans, and Weiser (2007) show that family is one of the socialization sources and that formation of strong pro-social bond with this source can equip the child with self-efficacy and refusal skills that can help prevent drug use/experimentation in future. This study was limited to a sample of 84 Native American students but it can be replicated for other study groups such as non-Native students.

In a systematic review of literature Miller (2000) examines communicative relationships affecting adolescents and ascertains that factors such as family structure, and parenting styles should be studied in relation to drug use and prevention among adolescents if interventions are to be reached. Essau (2002) generally discusses about family-related factors and asserts that they are risk factors for heightened levels of substance use, abuse, and dependence among adolescents. Essau (2002) however, uses a comparative literature analysis to reveal that drug abuse could be higher among young people from single family households compared to dual households or the other way round.  Considering that this is a finding based on secondary research, there is need to conduct a primary research to test the consistency of evidence on family’s structure as a risk factors for substance use and abuse among young people.

Most of the studies have focused on family related issues and the effect of such issues as risk factors to substance use, abuse, and dependency among adolescents. However, none of the studies has focused on socioeconomic issues within the context of family structure and self-medicating and substance abuse among young people under the age of 21 years. This literature gap can be filled by studying whether there is a high tendency for substance abuse among single households with low socioeconomic status compared to those with high economic status.

In conclusion, the subject of self-medicating and substance abuse among adolescents is widely tackled in literature. However, there are many demographic and cultural subdivisions among the adolescents that extensive research should be conducted to determine the chances of substance abuse and prevention among these subgroups.


Barrett, A., E. (2006). “Family structure and substance use problems in adolescence and early       adulthood: Examining explanations for the relationship”, Addiction, 101(1), 109-120.

Essau, C. (2002). Substance abuse and dependence in adolescence: Epidemiology, risk      factors and treatment. New York: Psychology Press

Galliher, R., Evans, C., Weiser, D. (2007). “Social and individual predictors of substance use        for Native American youth”, Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, 16(3),   1-16.

Hemovich, V., Lac, A., & Crano,W. (2011). “Understanding early-onset drug and alcohol            outcomes among youth: The role of family structure, social factors and interpersonal perceptions of use”. Psychology, Health, & Medicine, 16(3), 249-267.

Miller, M. (2000). Adolescent relationships and drug use. New York: Routledge

Paxton, R., Valois,R., & Drane, W. (2007). “Is there a relationship between family structure         and substance use among public middle school students?” Journal of Children and      Family Studies, 16, 593-605.

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