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Substance Abuse Among Teenagers: Factors and Causes

Background information

Teenage substance abuse continues to be a major social ill that society has to contend with. Research studies have indicated that a great majority of adolescents have at one point or another engaged in alcohol and other illicit drugs such as marijuana, heroin and cocaine among others. The pattern of substance abuse among teenagers has also changed over the decades. In the past, this problem was only associated with boys, older teenagers, and specific ethnic groups such as the Whites and African Americans. Today, however, substance abuse among teenagers is common across genders, all ages, and all ethnic groups (Sander, 1991). The increasing number of girls coming into contact with the juvenile justice system indicates that the problem of substance abuse has not spared them. In trying to determine the root causes of teenage substance abuse, scholars have pointed to all sorts of factors including: learning problems, family problems, psychological and emotional instability, poverty, and peer pressure to mention but a few (Trojanowicz, Morash & Schram, 2001). This study seeks to investigate the impact of gender, family structure, parental influence, and peer pressure on teenagers’ alcohol use.

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Research questions

The research questions that will be addressed in this paper include: Is there a difference in alcohol use between teenage girls and boys? Is there any difference in alcohol use among teenagers from different family structures? Are teenagers whose parents take alcohol more likely than teenagers whose parents do not use alcohol to use alcohol? Are teenagers who have alcoholic friends more likely than teenagers without alcoholic friends to use alcohol?

Definition of key terms

  • Alcohol – a liquid that has been fermented or distilled and which contains a stimulant called ethanol (Siegel, Welsh & Senna, 2006, p. 307)
  • Family structure – the arrangement of families depending on the availability of one or both parents and marital status
  • Emotional instability – problems that result from unhealthy emotional status
  • Parental influence – the power that parents have on their children that causes them to act in a certain manner
  • Peer pressure – the influence of friends on their fellow friends that causes them to act in a certain manner
  • Psychological instability – problems that result from unhealthy psychological status
  • Substance abuse – the use of illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol
  • Teenager – a person between the age of 12 and 19

Research hypotheses

Based on the research questions, the hypotheses that will be tested by this study are: More teenage boys are likely to use alcohol than teenage girls; teenagers from single-mother homes are more likely to use alcohol than teenagers from other family structures; teenagers whose parents use alcohol are more likely than teenagers whose parents do not use alcohol to use alcohol; and teenagers who have alcoholic friends are more likely than teenagers without alcoholic friends to use alcohol.

Research Synopsis

The issue of teenage substance abuse is one that has been studied extensively by different scholars in different countries and regions. Park, Kim and Kim (2009) studied the impact of parental substance abuse and peer substance abuse on South Korean adolescent substance abuse. The researchers used a sample of adolescents aged between 15 and 22 years all of whom resided in Seoul City and in the neighboring Kyung-gi Province. A total of 259 adolescents took part in the study. Both male (73.0%) and female (27%) adolescents were included in the sample. The participants were selected using convenience sampling techniques from youth counseling programs. The choice of Seoul City and Kyung-gi Province was due to the fact that it is the largest metropolitan area in South Korea and hence the area with the highest number of adolescents with problems of substance abuse.

Data was collected through survey questionnaires. The measurement of the data pertaining to adolescent substance abuse was done using the Problem-Oriented Screening Instrument for Teenagers (POSIT), an instrument that was created to recognize the adolescents who were in need of additional assessment in ten functional areas. Specifically, a subscale from the POSIT instrument that was used in this study consisted of 17 yes/no questions whose responses were coded as either yes (1) or no (2). On the other hand, data pertaining to the parental substance abuse was collected using the Children of Alcoholics Screening Test (CAST), an instrument that is utilized to psychometrically recognize those individuals who have lived with parents who are chemically dependent (Park et al., 2009).

Park et al. (2009) found that parental alcoholism and peer substance abuse had a statistically significant positive impact on adolescent substance abuse. This implies that adolescents who have parents who abuse alcohol are more likely than adolescents without alcoholic parents to abuse substances. On the other hand, adolescents who perceived that their parents were supportive of them were less likely than their counterparts to engage in substance abuse. Second, adolescents who have friends engaging in substance abuse are more likely than their counterparts to engage in substance abuse. Likewise, adolescents who perceive their friends to be supportive of them are more likely than their counterparts to engage in substance abuse (Park et al., 2009).

The effects of gender and family structures on teenage alcohol use have been studied by Walls (2008). The main goal of the study was to investigate the growth of alcohol and marijuana use in early adolescents among Indigenous youth. The researcher used a sample of 746 Indian American adolescents aged between 10 and 12 years from the Upper Midwest and Canada. The sample was almost evenly gendered with 50.3% of the sample being female and 49.7% being male. Data on substance use (alcohol and marijuana) was coded using dichotomous measures of 1 (substance use) and 0 (no substance use). Gender was measured as a dummy variable with 0 representing males and 1 representing females. Single mother households were also measured as a dummy variable with 1 indicated single mother households and 0 indicating other types of households.

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Walls (2008) found that the use of alcohol and marijuana was similar or significantly higher among girls than boys. Moreover, the growth of substance use during early adolescence was significantly higher in girls than in boys. Regarding the relationship between single mother households and substance use, Walls (2008) found that there was a higher growth of marijuana use among adolescents living in single mother households than those living in other households.

Present Study

Purpose of the study

This study will be conducted with the goal of identifying some of the major causes of substance use among teenagers. Specifically, the study will try to identify if: there are differences in alcohol use between teenage girls and teenage boys; there are differences in alcohol use between teenagers living single-mother households and teenagers living in other household arrangements; parental alcohol use has any effect on substance use among teenagers; and if alcohol use by peers has any effect on substance use among teenagers. The hypotheses stated above will be proven through the collection and analysis of relevant data. The results of the study will be used by drug rehabilitation centers to upgrade their programs.

Sample and sampling techniques

The participants will be selected from a rehabilitation center for teenage substance abusers based in New York City. The choice of New York City lies in the fact that it is a large metropolitan city and therefore it has a high number of teenagers as well as all sorts of social ills including substance abuse. The selection of the rehabilitation center will be done using purposive sampling. Purposive sampling is normally used when the researcher wants to use participants who will achieve the major objective of the study (Maxfield & Babbie, 1995). This will ensure that only those elements that are most likely to make a significant contribution to the study are selected. In this study, the rehabilitation center will be selected if it meets the following conditions: it admits both girls and boys into its programs; it admits teenagers of all ages – from 12 to 19 years; it admits teenagers from different socio-economic backgrounds, that is, different household income levels, different family structures, and different education levels.

On the other hand, the selection of participants from the center will be done using the random sampling technique. Random sampling is a probabilistic sampling technique that is used when the researcher wants to ensure that the sample is representative of the target population and that the results obtained can be generalized to the target population. It is actually the best and most effective sampling technique because each member of the target population “has an equal and known chance of being selected,” (Hesse-Biber & Leavy, 2005, p. 74). Random sampling of the participants will be done using computer programs (Microsoft Excel) after the list of all the clients of the rehabilitation center has been keyed in to the computer. This is the simplest and most convenient way of carrying out the random sampling technique.

Sample size and sampling error

The sample size used in this study will be 50 assuming that the population is 500. The sample size is therefore 10% of the target population. Sampling error refers to the error which results from the use of a sample rather than the entire population. It reduces as the sample size is increased and is calculated as:

  • E = z √ p % (100 – p %) / √s where s is the sample size, p is the % of population used, z is the value of degree of confidence level used (in this study the C.L is 95% whose value is 1.96)
  • E = 1.96 √ 10 (90) / √ 50 = 1.96 (30) / 7.07
  • E = +/- 8.32% at 95% confidence level

Procedure for data collection

The collection of data will be done through questionnaires. Before the administration of questionnaires to the sample, a cover letter will be sent to the rehabilitation center and the selected participants to explain to them the purpose of the study and to request for their participation. Questionnaires will then be sent to the participants via mail with the inclusion of self-addressed envelopes. To increase the response rate, reminders will be sent two weeks from the initial mailing. The reminders will be sent together with additional copies of the questionnaires and self-addressed envelopes just in case the original ones are displaced or lost altogether. The questionnaires will be filled at the rehabilitation center so that the participants receive help in filling them from the administrators of the center who will be trained by the researcher before the questionnaires are sent. This will also increase the response rate given the fact that the participants are relatively young and some may not understand the importance or process involved in filling the questionnaires.

Results

Table showing the relationship between gender, family structure, parental alcoholism and peer alcoholism on teenage alcohol use:

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Variable Number of teenage alcohol users
Gender: Boys 26
Girls 24
Family structure: Single-mother households 28
Non-single-mother households 22
Parental alcoholism: Yes 33
No 17
Peer alcoholism: Yes 40
No 10

Content analysis/conclusion

The results support our hypotheses that: more teenage boys are likely to use alcohol than teenage girls; teenagers from single-mother homes are more likely to use alcohol than teenagers from other family structures; teenagers whose parents use alcohol are more likely than teenagers whose parents do not use alcohol to use alcohol; and teenagers who have alcoholic friends are more likely than teenagers without alcoholic friends to use alcohol. Nevertheless, the difference between teenage girls and teenage boys who use alcohol is minute, showing that girls are catching up with boys in alcohol use. The variables with the greatest differences are parental alcoholism and peer alcoholism. This implies that influence from those around us plays a big role in determining whether or not teenagers will engage in alcohol use. These results have important implications for any rehabilitation program aimed at teenage substance abusers. For the programs to be effective, they must involve not only the teenagers but also their significant others such as family members and peers.

Ethical Considerations

There are a number of ethical issues that should be taken into consideration when conducting a research. These include:

Informed consent – the researcher should provide the potential participants with detailed information concerning the nature of the study, its benefits, potential harm and the rights of the participants. Based on this information, the participants can choose to participate or withdraw from the study. The consent given by the participants can be in written, verbal or taped form and it binds the informants to the study.

Confidentiality – the researcher should not record any personal information of the informants that could damage their reputation or cause them any problem. Information that should be made anonymous includes names, address of location, and sensitive medical information.

Protection from harm – the researcher should ensure that the benefits of participating in the study far outweigh the risks. Even then, it is the responsibility of the researcher to protect the participants from harm that could result from participating in the study, for instance, psychological distress when dealing with a sensitive issue.

Reciprocity – the researcher should reciprocate the help given by the informants in terms of useful information. This can be done by giving informal feedback and assisting them if they have a problem that is related to and caused by the research process.

Feedback of findings – it is the responsibility of the researcher to provide the informants with a copy of the study’s findings once the study has been completed. The researcher should also recognize the important role played by the informants in the success of the research and should thank them for their participation (Maxfield & Babbie, 1995).

Reference

Maxfield, M.G., & Babbie, E. (1995).Research Methods for Criminal Justice and Criminology (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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Park, S., Kim, H., & Kim, H. (2009). Relationships between parental alcohol abuse and social support, peer substance abuse risk and social support, and substance abuse risk among South Korean adolescents. Adolescence, 44(173), 87-99.

Sander, D. (1991). Teenage Perspectives: Focus on Teens in Trouble. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.

Siegel, L., Welsh, B.C., & Senna, JJ. (2006). Juvenile Delinquency: Theory, Practice and Law (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

Trojanowicz, M., & Schram, P.J. (2001). Juvenile Delinquency: Concepts and Control (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Walls, M.L. (2008). Marijuana and alcohol use during early adolescence: Gender differences. Journal of Drug Issues, 38(4), 1139-1160.

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