Logo for Charlie Health's SUD CEU event in March 2023

Webinar: Teen Substance Use – Present and Future Trends

Substance use looks different today. With the invention of e-cigarettes, the popularity of vaping, and the rise of social media, teens now have access to substances in ways we could have never imagined. Watch our virtual webinar to learn more.

March 24, 2023


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This CE was eligible for credit if you attended live and completed post-event evaluation surveys and is shared here strictly for informational purposes.

Earlier this month, Charlie Health hosted a webinar event focused on “Teen Substance Use: Present and Future Trends” in collaboration with the National Alliance for Eating Disorders (the Alliance). 

Charlie Health is the largest provider of virtual Intensive Outpatient Programming (IOP) for high-acuity teens and young adults who need in-depth mental health support. 

The Alliance is the leading nonprofit organization providing education, referrals, and support for individuals experiencing eating disorders. 

The session’s guest speakers included:

  • Haleigh Moller, Education Coordinator at the National Alliance for Eating Disorders, with a degree in nutrition and dietetics. 
  • Abby Blakely, Director of Clinical Outreach at Charlie Health. As a licensed clinical social worker, Blakely has over ten years of experience in mental health crisis stabilization in an inpatient unit and the emergency department at a local children’s hospital. 

Below, we summarize the key takeaways of the event, including the basics of substance use in teens and young adults, risk factors, common types of substances, and how to support young people experiencing substance use disorders. 

What is substance use disorder?

Substance use disorder refers to the regular use of alcohol and drugs. Over time, it can cause significant health problems, impairment, relationship issues, and problems with daily functioning. According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, 16.5% of people 12 and older had a substance use disorder in 2021. They conduct a yearly study called the Monitoring the Future Survey, which helps project future statistics on these issues. 

Nicotine (via vaping) use statistics: 

  • 12% of 8th graders within the last year
  • 20.5% of 10th graders within the last year
  • 27.3% of 12th graders within the last year

Charlie Health has conducted its own study on vaping and anxiety, which includes over 3,000 client participants. Read the article and results here

Marijuana use statistics: 

  • 8.3% of 8th graders within the last year 
  • 19.5% of 10th graders within the last year 
  • 30.7% of 12th graders within the last year 

Alcohol use statistics:

  • 15.2% of 8th graders within the last year
  • 31.3% of 10th graders within the last year
  • 51.9% of 12th graders within the last year

Any illicit substance use (other than marijuana):

  • 4.9% of 8th graders within the last year
  • 5.7% of 10th graders within the last year
  • 8% of 12th graders within the last year

Additionally, the study surveyed only 12th graders about their use of narcotic drugs. The reports showed that 1.7% of 12th graders reported narcotics use (without a prescription).  

For nearly a decade (2010-2019), reported overdose-related deaths of 14 to 18-year-olds remained consistent. 

However, in 2020, that data shows a significant jump from 492 to 954 deaths, a 94.3% increase. That number continued to rise to 1,146 deaths in 2021. 

“We know COVID happened in 2020, fairly early in the year, and so that certainly could play a huge impact on it,” Blakely of Charlie Health said. 

Another factor may be increased fentanyl overdoses, a topic discussed later in the session. 

Risk factors for substance use disorders

Environmental influence can play a heavy role in the relationship between substance use for teens and young adults. A teen surrounded by a family that promotes substance use may be exposed to adopting substance use behavior. Similarly, associating with peers who are substance users may lead to connecting with the same attitude and behavior. 

Blakely also pointed out that studies are learning more about risk factors for LGBTQIA+ teens and young adults. People who experience family rejection of their sexual orientation and gender identity “very quickly turn to substances to be able to kind of cope in a way that they’re not able to get that positive support and feedback from their family.”

Connectedness can be an effective deterrent for developing substance use disorders. For teens, it’s essential to feel connected at school. Connection can come from a positive role model, such as a teacher or staff member, or participating in extracurricular activities like sports or clubs. 

Other risk factors that may affect teens and young adults in developing a substance use disorder may include:

  • Family history of substance use
  • Parental substance use
  • Low academic achievement
  • Poor parental monitoring
  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Mental health issues 

Substance use prevention

Creating a positive, healthy environment can help teens and ultimately prevent them from developing or continuing with substance use issues in the future. 

Family and parental engagement 

Teens and young adults naturally tend to isolate themselves from their families during their teenage years. However, Blakely reiterated that families who regularly engage with their children and know what’s going on in their lives are more likely to prevent adverse outcomes. Parental engagement can be shown by attending sporting games or attending school events. Support is giving your child your attention and care, no matter the situation. This significantly affects the LGBTQIA+ population, as some teens do not feel support from their families for who they are. 

Parental disapproval and monitoring

The key to parental disapproval and monitoring is in keeping an open line of communication regarding substance use. Openly discussing these challenging situations can limit adverse outcomes in the future. As social media continues to expand its reach, parents need to monitor the apps and social platforms their children regularly use. Children can be taken advantage of or exposed to drug dealers and sales through social media. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has begun cataloging common emoji icons used for drug sales or when communicating with drug dealers. Speaking to your children about the dangers of social media use is one step toward substance use prevention. 

School connectedness

As Blakely mentioned, teens and young adults connected at school are less likely to develop a substance use disorder. Supporting your child academically and investing time in their events and activities can help create an open and positive environment. 

Fentanyl use in adolescents 

In 2021, fentanyl was identified in 77.14% of all adolescent overdose deaths. This is due to the lethality of fentanyl and how cheap and easy it is to manufacture. Essentially, fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid. It’s approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a controlled medication for pain relief. It’s 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more powerful than heroin—meaning it’s incredibly addictive and dangerous. To put this into perspective, 2 mg is considered a lethal dose, which is small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil. 

Fentanyl can be formed into pills and added to substances like Oxycodone, Percocet, and Xanax. Teens looking to get high take these drugs but aren’t aware that they’re mixed with fentanyl. This results in such drastic overdoses and deaths in teens simply because they don’t know that these pills contain fentanyl or understand how potent the drug is. 

Rise in nicotine use in teens

With the help of “Just Say No” campaigns and other anti-tobacco use initiatives, teen cigarette use has drastically decreased over the last two decades. Unfortunately, findings suggest that there has been a reversal of nicotine use among teens due to e-cigarettes and vaping. In 2022, 2.55 million US middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes. Of those teens, 27.6% reported using e-cigarettes daily. 

Why is vaping a concern?

Vaping is legal if you’re 18 or older, so many teens don’t see the problem in starting to vape at a younger age. They don’t see vaping as a “hard drug,” though health risks remain. Teenagers can struggle with impulse control and may not follow the recommended frequency of use meant for vape pens and e-cigarettes. This can result in developing a nicotine addiction or dependency. 

JUUL, one of the most popular vape brands on the market, is legal and available in all 50 states. One JUUL pod (the interchangeable cartridge containing the liquid nicotine) includes a standard 2 mg of liquid, roughly 200 puffs per pod, equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes. Many e-cigarettes and vape pens resemble flash drives, so parents are sometimes unaware if their children have one. Candy Pez dispensers, Sharpie pens, and Altoid tins are other ways JUUL vape cases have been modified to disguise vape devices. 

Road to recovery

Creating a safe and hopeful environment for teenagers is essential to their recovery.

Teens are more likely to move forward toward recovery if they feel like they have a robust support system and feel that people are watching out for them. 

Social support

Social support can help reduce youth’s stress and loneliness during their recovery. Often there’s a sense of shame and embarrassment for people who struggled and continue to struggle with substance use. Providing a safe environment can help prevent relapse and further isolation.

Substance use disorder treatments

Substance use disorder is a lifelong battle to overcome. With the help of support systems, different intervention methods and plans can help maintain your sobriety. 

Peer support groups

Many 12-step programs provide education and continued support surrounding substance use. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon (for parents, siblings, or friends with a loved one who suffers from substance use) help both sides. Mental Health of America also offers peer support groups. 

Talk therapy

Oftentimes, an underlying reason for substance use is mental health issues. Seeing a mental health professional can be a big step in establishing other concerns that may affect recovery and treatment. 

Medication management

Medication isn’t required for all treatments, though some medications can help with the actual addictive piece of the drugs they were previously using. 

Higher levels of care

Depending on the person and their needs, inpatient care is another option. Specifically, when substance use is a factor, consideration for a detox period is needed. A longer rehabilitation term may follow this to monitor and support them safely. 

Intensive outpatient programs

Tiered services can help bridge the gap when someone transitions from a higher level of care program. This can include partial hospitalization programs (PHP), weekly counseling, and finding a program that supports both mental health and substance use issues. 

Whether you participate in a virtual program like Charlie Health or find a local program to enroll in, it’s important to transition back into day-to-day life within your community slowly. Having the support of an intensive outpatient program can be an essential part of helping teens and young adults return to and navigate their environment. 

Q&A Session

Can I get more information about substance use support programs through Charlie Health?

Yes. Our Director of Substance Use Programming is currently going through and updating our curriculum. As part of Charlie Health’s substance use track, teens will be placed in a group of peers struggling with that issue. Family support groups and education are also available through the program. Learn more here

How do I help kids who don’t want to stop smoking weed?

Pushing help onto someone who doesn’t want it can backfire. It’s crucial to meet teens where they are and provide an engaging and supportive environment. Connectedness can play a significant role, whether at school or home. This can open the door to conversation and give them a safe space to talk to you about what’s really going on. 

Are there any harm reduction programs targeted toward youth?

You can find different harm reduction programs in your community based on the type of prevention it focuses on. Many have adapted to children’s and teens’ access and approach accordingly.

Is there data that shows how teens are acquiring marijuana from dispensaries?

Drug access has grown exponentially, and you no longer need to get them solely from a drug dealer. Sometimes kids receive drugs from neighbors, family members, or friends. Accidental experimentation can also happen, and this may lead to regular use. 

What resources exist for parents who want to support their child who uses marijuana and a vape?

School counselors can provide insight into how your child is functioning and performing in school. This is an excellent way to gauge their connectedness and engagement. You can also look into mental health options to determine the level of care needed. Charlie Health offers a call center that can provide more information or refer you to other places that may be helpful. 

Virtual intensive outpatient support at Charlie Health

Approaching substance use prevention and intervention in teens begins with creating a positive and engaging environment. The goal is to open the door to communication and encourage connectedness in the home, at school, and within the community. As Blakely mentioned, Charlie Health offers substance use tracks to assist teens, young adults, and their families. We’re available 24/7 to provide the education and support you need.