Female Adolescent Substance Abuse Begins at a Young Age

Posted on November 24th, 2009

If information gathered from admissions were relied upon, it would seem that female adolescent substance abuse was much lower than that for adolescent males. Recent research indicates otherwise.

In 2007, adolescent females made up less than one-third of the almost 132,000 admissions to substance abuse treatment centers. The adolescent female admissions showed that marijuana and alcohol made up 80 percent of the primary substance abuse by females aged 12 to 17. The majority of these admissions first used their primary substance of abuse between the ages of 12 and 14.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that adolescent females actually had significantly higher rates of illicit drug use other than marijuana in the last month than their male counterparts. The survey also showed that females in the age group had higher rates of alcohol use, cigarette use, past year nonmedical pain reliever use, depression and alcohol dependence.

When examining the female adolescent admissions records, researchers found that 19 percent of those admitted were between 12 and 14, while 81 percent were aged 15 to 17. The primary substances of abuse reported were relatively consistent between the two age groups. While relatively rare among all female adolescent admissions, use of cocaine, heroine or methamphetamine as the primary substance of abuse was slightly higher for those aged 15 to 17.

Just under one-third (29%) of all female adolescent admissions had been in treatment once before, and 6 percent had been in treatment two or more times before. Over half of the adolescent female admissions stated that their first use of their primary abuse substance happened between the ages of 12 and 14. 15 percent of the admissions reported an introduction to primary substance abuse at the age of 11 years or younger.

As the female adolescent admissions went up in age, so did the number of school referrals versus criminal justice system referrals. About 40 percent of adolescent female admissions aged 15 to 17 were referred by the criminal justice system while only 12 percent were referred by schools. This is in contrast to the 29 percent of referrals for those aged 12 to 15.

The research also found that approximately 2 percent of all female adolescent admissions were pregnant at the time of treatment.

The information gathered shows three areas of focus for planning abuse prevention for adolescents. First, the prevention strategies must be targeted to very young females, those younger than 11 years old. Second, the repeating of treatment suggests that treatment is not long enough or effective enough, or both, to address the struggles the female adolescents have in overcoming their substance abuse problems. Finally, the high rate of female adolescent admissions that are also pregnant requires a careful strategy to educate the young females about the risks substance abuse poses for their infants. Obstetricians also need to be aware of the additional screenings and counseling that may be necessary for their female adolescent prenatal patients.
 

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