Adolescent substance abuse

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Article publication date: 18 April 2008



(2008), "Adolescent substance abuse", Health Education, Vol. 108 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Adolescent substance abuse

Article Type: Internet review From: Health Education, Volume 108, Issue 3.

If we believe the media, adolescents of today are angry and out of control. If they are not murdering each other with guns and knives, they have their heads stuck in a pot of glue or they are attacking vulnerable members of the public. House parties get out of control as spaced-out teenagers run riot and cause thousands of pounds worth of damages to the homes of hapless parents. They have even been called “feral” by some sections of the media. Are our children really so out of control, and if so what part does substance abuse play in this dysfunctional behaviour? In this review we look at web sites that attempt to tackle the problem of adolescent substance abuse.


ASK is the Adolescent Substance abuse Knowledge base, a web site based in North America, though it is unclear who the sponsors might be and therefore validity of the content must be treated with care. Superficially the web site appears to deal with many of the issues that would be of concern. There is detailed information on drugs typically used by teenagers as part of club culture. So here we can find information on ecstasy, Rohypnol, Ketamine and others. This information appears to have been gleaned from the National Institute on Drug abuse (NIDA) which is part of the National Institues if Health (NIH), the principle biomendicaland behavioural agency of the United States Government. This of course does give the content of this web site greater legitimacy.The web site has a useful statistics section though most of the information is derived from North American sources.

Although it is not made explicit, it would appear that the web site has been designed mainly for parents,rather than adolescents themselves. For example in the “Signs of Drug Use” section, users of the web site will find a checklist of things parents should look for if they suspect their children might be involved with drugs. The checklist is quite comprehensive and will be very helpful for many parents who are worried about changes in the behaviour of their children. Going beyond the checklist the user can access a database “Symptoms of Specific Drugs”. Here they can find detailed descriptions of the effects of different drugs and the physiological and behavioural symptoms they produce.

For many parents, distinguishing symptoms of drug abuse from the more usual teenage angst, must be quite difficult and to help with this the “When to Seek Help” section provides a list of emotional and behavioural changes that might signify drug abuse. There is also a short quiz that on completion gives parents a measure of how likely it is that the behaviours described are linked to drug abuse.

The “Resources” section of the web site provides links to a variety of online services as well as treatment centres, though most of these are of course located in North America. Finally, there is also what is described as a “Substance Abuse Blog”, which sounds like it might contain the ravings of drug addled teenagers. In fact it is mainly written by parents or other adults who want to make a particular point, give advice or suggest a resource that might be useful for other parents.

This is an attractively designed web site that many parents will appreciate and which therefore, almost by definition, adolescents will strenuously avoid!


ADDACTION describes itself as “Britains largest specialist drug and alcohol treatment charity”. In various forms, this charity has been providing help to young people with drug problems for over 40 years and this web site provides users with a portal into a range of treatment services and information sources. The web site is divided into three main sections aimed at young people, families and adults. Unfortunately at the time of writing there appeared to be a problem with the “young people” link in that users who click on this are simply redirected back to the home site, very frustrating. One of the most useful parts of this web site is found in the publications section where users can download a number of interesting advice sheets in the form of pdf files. The first of these is aimed at helping young people make informed choices about using drugs and alcohol. The second helps young people who are worried about someone they know who might be abusing drugs or alcohol. These two leaflets are aimed at young people themselves though they could be used by teachers or health education professionals in their work with young people. The third leaflet is for parents and contains information and advice on how to talk to their children about drugs and alcohol. Making information like this available in pdf format is very useful for parents and educators, but it must be said that it is not likely to be very appealing to adolescents themselves. For these young people the information should be in a form that is more immediate and dynamic and dare I say it, entertaining?

For academics the web site also provides quite a large number of research papers but again only available in pdf format.

The main problem with this web site is that it doesn’t appear to know who its target audience might be. With its rather staid design, it won’t attract adolescents, parents may find something of use, but not in a form that is readily accessible, and for academics or health professionals, what small amount of information that can be found will only be of limited use. Also, for a professionally managed web site, it has too many links that don’t go anywhere.

The Partnership

The Partnership for a drug-free America is another organisation that has been around for a long time, in this case more than 20 years. Unlike the previous web site, The Partnership exploits the potential of the Internet to the full. Yes users can download the usual leaflets, but there are also videos, online quizzes, special reports on recent developments, and it has seperate sections for parents and their children. For parents, a good place to start with this web site is the “Two-Minute Quiz”, a quick test of your knowldge of adolescent drug abuse. The questions have been developed with American teenagers in mind, but many of the answers are probably true for others as well.

For the “You Tube” generation, video is the only way to get your message across and in the “Teen” section of this web site this is recognised by the extensive use of video. The videos are presented in a “You Tube” streaming format so that there is no waiting for things to download, just click and go. The information on drugs is extensive and much of the content is presented in the form of quizzes. After completing the short quiz, rather than using the results to preach at the user, the findings are used to direct the young person to the “Real Stories” section of the web site where they can read about the problems they have highlighted and look at how other young people with similar problems have manged to cope. A novel feature of this web site is “Choices” that invites users to play out several different interactive video based scenarios.

Depending on the decisions made the scenario will go one way (happy ending) or another (not so happy!). Users can play “Choices” over again, experimenting with different decisions to explore likely outcomes. This is a very interesting way for young people to learn about the consequences of their actions within a safe environment. It is a pity there are only three scenarios available.

Finally, just to emphasise that drug abuse isn’t a game, this web site also has a memorials section where parents or friends can create a lasting memorial to a young peron who may have suffered the fatal consequences of drug abuse. Some will find this rather morbid, but it certainly makes the point.

Wired for Health

As part of the Healthy Schools initiative, Wired for Health provides a portal for teachers who want to access health education materials. This particular section deals with drugs and young people. The point should be made at the outset, that this web site is not for young people, nor is it for their parents. The information it presents may be of some interest to these two groups, but the design and content are aimed quite clearly at teachers and health education professioals. The content is all text based, starting with some common questions (and answers) about drugs. Under “Facts and Figures”, users will find a list of the drugs that are most commonly abused, interestingly including magic mushrooms but not alcohol? There are also sections on “Why young people take drugs” and “What to do in an emergency”. Admittedly, these two sections are rather superficial, but the advice and guidance that is offered is practical and may well be of some limited use. Overall, a very good web site for teachers and health professionals, young people and their parents would find the previously reviewed web sites more accessible.

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