How Substance Use in the Community Impacts Adolescents’ Risk of Addiction


How Substance Use in the Community Impacts Adolescents' Risk of Addiction

Adolescence is a vulnerable time of life. Teens are developing physically, mentally, and emotionally. They are learning new behaviors that will often carry over into adulthood. This can be very positive, a time for adolescents to build healthy habits and skills. However, it can also be negative. Specifically, substance use in a teen’s community influences their understanding of how to cope with stress and teaches them to abuse substances. This increases adolescents’ risk of addiction as a teenager and an adult. Fortunately, with proper help, adolescents can learn new skills that reinforce their recovery and join a new community where they are supported.

How Community Impacts Adolescents’ Risk of Addiction

During adolescence, there is a significant amount of development occurring in the brain. This includes changes in the limbic system, which plays a role in enforcing behavior with dopamine release. Many addictive substances cause an increase in the release of dopamine. For teens, this is particularly impactful because the substances create a large influx of dopamine, which the brain responds to by decreasing natural dopamine production. As a result of changes in dopamine response and overall brain development, teens are very vulnerable to stress, trauma, and addiction.

The community an adolescent spends time in makes a significant difference. It can increase or decrease an adolescent’s likelihood of experiencing stress and trauma. Additionally, it influences their risk of addiction. Substance use in the community, coping patterns used by adults, and trauma all play a role in increasing an adolescent’s risk of addiction.

Fortunately, adolescents can make new social connections and build healthier communities.

Substance Abuse

Adolescence is a period of transition, learning new skills, and growing. Living or spending time in an environment where substances are abused impacts adolescents. For example, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), children who are exposed to a parent with a substance use disorder (SUD) are more likely to develop SUD as a teen or an adult.

Additionally, the community outside of their immediate family also plays a role in adolescents’ risk of addiction. When teens spend time with others who are using substances, they are more likely to try them. This is partially due to the brain development that is occurring, which increases risk-taking behaviors. As a result, it is helpful for many adolescents to stay busy in healthier communities to prevent relapse and addiction.


Many adolescents experience trauma. This can include abuse, bullying, or neglect. Adolescents living in a home where substance abuse is prevalent often experience maltreatment and a lack of healthy attachments. Each adolescent’s experience is different. However, those who experience trauma are at an increased risk of addiction.

A research article published in the Journal of Addiction explains that adolescents who have experienced trauma have an increased risk of substance use and addiction. Such trauma could include:

  • Neglect
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Bullying

Many of these traumatic experiences occur as a result of substance use in the community. Therefore, while trauma in itself increases an adolescent’s risk of addiction, substances in the community increase their risk of experiencing trauma and, subsequently, addiction.

Emotional Coping

Substances are commonly used as a way to cope with stress and negative emotions. As a result, behavioral changes are generally an integral part of addiction treatment. These emotional patterns expose adolescents to the use of substances to cope.

Adolescents are at an important phase of development, where they are learning behaviors that will carry into adulthood. If an adolescent is surrounded by substance abuse as an emotional coping strategy, they are likely to learn that this is the way to deal with stress and negative emotions.

Additionally, as a result of the changes in the brain, adolescents are at a higher risk of experiencing stress. If they begin to use substances to cope with stress and negative emotions, they are developing both behaviors and physical changes in the brain that lead to addiction.

Decreasing Adolescents’ Risk of Addiction

Every adolescent is born into a family with certain norms. They generally cannot control substance use in their homes or immediate community. However, adolescents can get help. Working with a mental health care professional or treatment center helps adolescents to understand how their environment is impacting them. Additionally, getting help from a therapist or treatment center will help them to heal from addiction, build social skills, and address traumas they have experienced.

Working with a treatment center also helps adolescents learn to build new and healthier communities. Getting support from mental health care professionals, counselors, or loved ones will help them learn new ways to connect with others without using substances. This might look something like joining a sports team or learning a new skill. Regardless of the community, there are many benefits for adolescents taking part in new and healthier ones.

Living in a community where substance use is the norm negatively impacts teens. Adolescents are always learning, and being surrounded by substances is not the only issue. They also learn behaviors such as self-medicating with substances that can lead to addiction and other long-term issues. Additionally, environments where substances are prevalent commonly cause trauma and stress for adolescents, which further increases their risk of addiction. At Sustain Recovery, we offer treatment programs that address adolescents’ need for social skills, coping skills, and overall mental health. We understand that addiction and mental health are complex issues for adolescents. To learn more about our programs, call us today at (949) 407-9052 and speak with a staff member.