BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Adolescent Health and Substance Misuse: A Global Concern



Substance misuse or abuse is defined by World Health Organization as the harmful or dangerous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol, illicit drugs and other substances. The use of these substances can lead to a medical condition known as dependence syndrome. Dependence syndrome refers to a cluster or variety of behavioural, cognitive, and physiological phenomena that develop following the repeated use of illicit substances and prescription drugs. Symptoms of this condition typically include: strong recurring desire to take psychoactive drugs, difficulty controlling use, persistent use irrespective of harmful consequences, prioritizing use at the detriment of other activities and obligations, increased tolerance, and occasionally, a physical withdrawal state.

Misuse of illicit drugs and other substances hinders the ability of adolescents to grow, develop and reach their full potential in life. In addition to being an exciting stage of life- filled with self-discoveries and youthful exuberance, many adolescents continue to mature and develop physically. They also become adventurous and experimental with drugs, trying out many new things which may compromise their health. This is why many unhealthy behaviors such as substance misuse are often started during adolescence and continue into adulthood, contributing to the global burden of addiction morbidity and mortality.

Drug or substance misuse in adolescents is on the rise and has become a global concern because it exposes them to dangers from the drug and associated risky or unhealthy behaviors. It is also likely to result in increased drug use in the future. Parents and guardians need to monitor this group and not overlook occasional instances of drug misuse and their significance. Substance misuse has long-term impacts on the developing brain of teenagers and may interfere with family, positive peer relationships, and school performance. The impairment of brain development and function due to drug use by adolescents may result in the present or subsequent development of substance use disorder in adulthood. It is therefore important to identify and intervene in drug use early.

National and global policies which favorably and positively influence the levels and patterns of substance use and consequent harm can significantly reduce the public health problems attributable to substance use. Additionally, interventions at the health care system level can support affected individuals towards health restoration, harm reduction and eventually, quitting substance use. There is need for a collaborative effort that engages multiple partners including government and non governmental agencies, community and international organizations to make recommendations on adolescent health, provide high quality age-appropriate health services and design adolescent focused substance misuse interventions. Given the age of adolescents, the school environment remains the best place to develop healthy behaviors since schools have direct contact with millions of them daily. Research also supports that school health programs reduce the prevalence of risky behaviors among young people as well as have a positive effect on academic performance.

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