Youth sometimes use substances to express their independence and autonomy. This use should not be automatically equated with “substance abuse”. Surveys have reported that by the end of high school, 80% of students have tried alcohol, 49% have tried marijuana, and 29% have used a street drug other than marijuana (Johnston, 2002). Most youth who use substances do not develop problem use or dependency (Johnston, 2002; Manitoba Healthy Schools, 2021).
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Decision-making in teens involves a chemical called dopamine in the brain’s reward center. Dopamine helps transmit signals in the brain that make people feel happy. The number of brain receptors interacting with dopamine is higher in adolescence than at any other time of life. That means that when a teen is exposed to a reward—such as a compliment—the reward center reacts more strongly than it would for an adult.
The Brief Screener for Tobacco, Alcohol and other Drugs (BSTAD) and Screening to Brief Intervention (S2BI) are two, validated tools that help clinicians screen adolescents for substance use in under two minutes. In this short video, Dr. Geetha Subramaniam from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) discusses the differences between BSTAD and S2BI and how a provider can choose which of the two tools to use. She also explains the difference between universal and targeted screening and shares information about considerations for confidentiality among teen patients.
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