Adolescent Corner

Welcome to the adolescent exhibit. Here you will find writings by adolescent expert Fred Dyer, PH.D, CADC. These articles will provide pertinent information on the prevention, intervention and treatment of African American adolescents with substance use disorders.


African American Adolescent Girls, Substance use, and the Development of Resiliency

I can recall quite clearly from the literature especially from about 1995- 2005, there was a plethora of studies on resiliency in adolescents. Those studies included but were not limited to development, or cultivating, or promoting, and establishing resiliency in adolescents. In this blog I want to pick up from 2005 and continue the conversation of resiliency, and address the topic as it relates to African American Adolescent Girls with substance use Disorders. Hawkins, Catelano, and Miller (1992) provide an excellent listing and delineation of not only the risk factors for adolescent alcohol and drug use, but also of corresponding prevention principles and practices. Likewise Bell & Suggs (1998) offer a useful blueprint and road map of resiliency in adolescents from the work of Wolin & Wolin. 

American adolescent girls are using tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, and controlled  prescription drugs at  rates surpassing those of their male counterparts (Johnston,O"Malley,Bachman&Schulenberg,2004,205:National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 2005). Once girls use substances, they are more likely than boys to become dependent, and they fare more poorly in treatment (Moochan&Schroeder, 2004: Rowe, Liddle, Greenbuam, &Henderson, 2004). Girls also suffer disproportionately from such consequences of alcohol and drug use as poor nutrition, exposure to unprotected sex and STDs, pregnancy, and domestic violence (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1994). It is clear that Culturally Competent Gender- Responsive Resiliency Substance use prevention would be an effective, and efficacious approach. What then makes a resilient African American adolescent girl who is faced with substance use? Resilient African American adolescent  girls are individuals who despite exposure to toxic environments manage to achieve positive  outcomes because  of unique  personal  strengths and environmental protective factors (Alvord&Grados,2005).

Examining resiliency factors aids and assists in the cultivating of resiliency in African American adolescent girls. Cohesion in three of its contexts i.e., family, school, and community provides insight into the dynamic adaptive  relationship between adolescents and their environments (Lerner etal.,2013). Ethnic Identity, according to Rotheram and Phinney (1987), is defined as one’s sense of belonging to an ethnic group and the part of one’s thinking, perceptions, feelings and behavior  that is due  to ethic group membership. A positive ethnic identity is a substance use protective factor for adolescent African American girls. Carl Bell MD, provides seven strategies for reducing violence  and re-engaging youth back into society, which it is this writer’s opinion that these same principles can be used in developing resiliency in African American Adolescent girls. They include: 

  • Rebuilding the Village- This involves churches, schools and families working together to create networks to support African American Adolescent girls. 

  • Providing Access to ancient and modern technology in counseling-ranging from tried and true mentoring programs and activities to modern manualized evidence based family and trauma recovery curriculum. 

  • Providing a sense of connectedness-Helping professionals may need to help adolescent African American girls develop a sense of community.  

  • Provide Opportunities to learn social and emotional skills. 

  • Provide opportunities for her to develop self esteem via daily affirmations and other techniques. 

  • Provide the adult protective shield. This can involve rallying the family to help assure that African American Adolescent girls experience safety. 

  • Minimize trauma-As there is a strong link between trauma and heavy substance use. 

In my work with Adolescent African American girls I often use videos to demonstrate resilience principles and to instill hope. One video scene I use is from the movie Flash Dance which illustrates that you can fall down and get right back up. Click on the link below to view a clip from the movie.

African American Adolescents and Substance Use

It is with great pride and appreciation that I begin the journey of writing this very important blog. The subject matter is one that I am familiar with in several ways, first, as a writer/publisher of over 150 articles. Two as a professional my work began with adolescents in the summer of 1972. Third, having a firsthand knowledge a growing up as an adolescent in the sixties, and early seventies gives me perspective concerning "today’s" adolescent. Finally, I’ve had the privilege of working with adolescents in multiple settings with substance use disorders and mental illness. This would also include adolescents who ran away from home, and wound up sleeping in abandoned cars, youth who would hop on freight trains, youth who were being sexually and physically abused, and youth living in poverty.

Studies are clear regarding the importance of Cultural and gender differences which substance use disorders treatment providers should address. With this as a context, it is important in understanding African American adolescents that their behavior, including substance use is not only molded and shaped by the environment in which they reside (e.g., family context, peers, neighborhoods, and historical context), but they become integral parts  of their own identity development process (Spencer 2006,2008). African American adolescents in the United states are not only expected to undergo typical developmental experiences that are the hallmark of adolescence, such as physical growth and development (Susman%Dorn, 2009) and developing a desire to assert their independence (McElhaney et, al 2009), they are also coping with a world in which they will experience racial prejudice (Sellers, et al 2003).

It is important to not only help African American substance using adolescents with recovery, but to also help them  as said in 12 step circles "to live life on life’s terms." This can involve counselors having sensitive discussions with African American youth on their experiences with racism and oppression and to understand how they cope with these psycho-social stressors, which in unaddressed could lead to apathy, anger and relapse. In light of these challenges let’s help them become aware of their resilience and further developing resilience, by first focusing on obstacles they have overcome already, connecting them with needed community support so that they will not have to face these challenges alone, affirming their resilience, instilling hope and encouraging them to "hang in there". The Five Stairsteps reminded us of the importance of hope and encouragement in the summer of 1970, with their song "Ooh Child." Click on the link below to listen to the song.