Substance Use Disorders in Adolescents: Screening and Engagement in Primary Care Settings


Offers educational tools to assist in the prevention, screening, evaluation, and referral to treatment of adolescents with or at risk for substance use disorders. Includes a video and facilitator's guide.

Resource Materials


Developer: Drexel University College of Medicine and University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Curriculum resource type: Didactic

Method used: Web-based videos and instructional text

Intended audience: Medical students (years 1¬–4), residents in primary care specialties, and practicing physicians in primary care specialties

Implementation time: 1.5-2 hours

Additional components: References; NIDA treatment guidelines

Educational objectives:

  • Understand the risk factors that predispose children and adolescents to substance use disorders and the protective factors that lead to resilience and limit substance abuse and addiction
  • Learn the skills necessary to conduct a primary inquiry about substance use with an adolescent patient and obtain a substance use history
  • Recognize substance abuse and addiction in adolescent patients
  • Demonstrate how to engage adolescent patients in preventive strategies and treatment for substance abuse or addiction

Evaluation tools: Behavior skills checklist and learner assessment questions

Curriculum resource description: Adolescence is a time of significant physical, psychological, social, emotional, and intellectual development. In addition, adolescents’ abilities to control their impulses and plan for the future are still developing, causing many teens to be more adventurous than adults and possibly increasing their willingness to take chances and engage in risky behaviors, such as drug use. However, drug and alcohol use during adolescence can be particularly risky and increase risk for problems with attention, learning, and working memory, as well as increase the risk for future problems with substance abuse and addiction.

Research shows that most teens do not use drugs, but drug use does occur frequently among adolescents and is often identified among teens who are experiencing interpersonal and family conflicts, school difficulty or failure, criminal activity, or some psychiatric disorders. Although the majority of teens who use drugs do not become addicted, even limited substance use can have a significant impact on a teen’s relationship with family, peers, school, and community. Physicians can master communication skills that help elicit accurate information to identify and assess teens who are using drugs and may be experiencing problem drug abuse.

This educational module about the clinical assessment of substance abuse disorders in adolescents presents written text and instructional videos that provide the knowledge and skills needed in the screening, evaluation, and referral to treatment of adolescents with substance use disorders. In addition, the module is designed to help physicians and other health care practitioners address stigma about providing clinical care to adolescents with substance use disorders.

Key words: adolescent; drug abuse; drug addiction; substance abuse; risk factors; prevention