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Preventing Drug Use among Children and Adolescents (In Brief)

What are the early signs of risk that may predict later drug abuse?

Some signs of risk can be seen as early as infancy or early childhood, such as aggressive behavior, lack of self-control, or difficult temperament. As the child gets older, interactions with family, at school, and within the community can affect that child’s risk for later drug abuse.

Children’s earliest interactions occur in the family; sometimes family situations heighten a child’s risk for later drug abuse, for example, when there is:

  • a lack of attachment and nurturing by parents or caregivers;
  • ineffective parenting; and
  • a caregiver who abuses drugs.

But families can provide protection from later drug abuse when there is:

  • a strong bond between children and parents;
  • parental involvement in the child’s life; and
  • clear limits and consistent enforcement of discipline.

Interactions outside the family can involve risks for both children and adolescents, such as:

  • poor classroom behavior or social skills;
  • academic failure; and
  • association with drug-abusing peers.

Association with drug-abusing peers is often the most immediate risk for exposing adolescents to drug abuse and delinquent behavior.

Other factors—such as drug availability, trafficking patterns, and beliefs that drug abuse is generally tolerated—are risks that can influence young people to start abusing drugs.

This page was last updated October 2003

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