How to Combat Risk Factors for Adolescent Addiction

The National Institute on Drug Abuse identifies five factors that could increase an adolescent’s risk for drug addiction:

  1. Early Aggressive Behavior
  2. Lack of Parental Supervision
  3. Substance Abusing Peers
  4. Drug Availability in Schools
  5. Poverty

Here are specific ways to limit these risk factors and increase protective factors:

  1. Early aggressive behavior is combated through self control.  A child can increase their self control when authority figures are clear and consistent in their limits and expectations.  Children can also increase self control when they feel heard and have a safe and healthy outlet for their emotions.  The goal is not to stop children from feeling bad feelings, but to allow them a safe space to express them.  When we can offer them this time and space, we are limiting aggressive behavior and limiting their risk for adolescent addiction.
  2. What does it mean to be an involved parent?  An involved parent knows the names and parents of their child’s friends.  An involved parent comes to parent teacher conferences, reviews homework, quizzes their child at home for tests, and follows up by checking on their grades.  An involved parent is at the soccer game and the band concert and chaperones the field trip.  An involved parent also spends time understanding and learning about their children.  An involved parent makes dinner with their child or reads together or has a catch outside.  Its easy to see how being an involved parent can reduce the risk for adolescent addiction.
  3. How do you guide your child’s friendship?  What do you do when you suspect a child’s friend is using tobacco, drugs, or alcohol? Review #2: how to be an involved parent.  Next, have open and honest discussions with your children.  Talk about the hard stuff.  Why might alcohol look or feel appealing?  Where could it lead? How has this person’s substance use impacted your friendship? How is this going to play out in the future?  Be the trusted person your child can talk to and reduce their risk for adolescent addiction.
  4. The best way to combat drug availability in school is to have clear rules and consistent consequences for those who violate the school’s antidrug policy.  The consequences cannot change from the A student to the C student. This leaves students feeling targeted while others feel entitled. Educators need to have clear and consistent antidrug policies to help reduce the risk for adolescent addiction.
  5. Poverty.  How do we change poverty?  Is this risk factor even accurate, especially given the rise in abuse of prescription and designer drugs?  NIDA believes that the best way to combat a risk factor within the community is to develop strong ties and a sense of pride within the community.  How can this be done? Trusting neighbors, knowing your neighbors, maintaining a clean community, going outside and being present in the community, being an active member in a religious fellowship, serving on a local committee or board, volunteering, etc… These are just some of the ways that all of us can help reduce the risk for adolescent addiction.

If you have other ideas you’d like to share, please email I’d be happy to post a follow up!