Activity 2: Focus on non-mainstream youth

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Topic Progress:


So far we have developed general knowledge about the biological, psychological, and social contributors to problematic substance use in the general youth population. We have come to appreciate problematic substance use as a developmental disorder, and we are able to cite evidence in support of the risk and protective factors believed to be associated with problematic substance use. As practitioners, our appreciation of these etiologies is essential, since they guide us in the creation and application of evidence-based treatment and prevention practices.

Also, it is important to recognize that not all youth engage in problematic substance use and that some groups are more likely than their peers to report heavy use, multi-drug use, and economic and social problems due to use.

Sadly, research into the unique etiologies associated with higher risk groups (often referred to as non-mainstream youth) is sorely lacking. What we do know, however, is that some of these youth may be self-medicating to cope with untreated traumas, toxic environments, and underlying psychological conditions. Furthermore, many in the substance use field believe that our current approaches to preventing adolescent drug use may not address the key issues for non-mainstream youth; these approaches may only reach the general majority who are not likely to experience substantial harms from problematic substance use. Therefore, it is time to consider doing studies aimed at identifying the etiologies of problematic substance use among non-mainstream youth.


  1. Review Substance Abuse in Canada: Youth in Focus by the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse (2007).
  2. In your textbook, read “The Forest and the Trees: Addiction as a Complex Self-Organizing System” by Bickel and Potenza.
  3. In Lesson 1, we reviewed the importance of the self-awareness of our own biases and stereotypes. When you think about groups of non-mainstream youth who are disproportionately affected by substance use and dependence, what have been your biases?
  4. When you reflect on the table, or chart, you developed in Activity 1, did it reflect the higher risk of non-mainstream youth? Why do you think you included or excluded these factors?
  5. How is the stigma associated with substance use by non-mainstream youth compounded? If you can think of a good example, add it to the discussion area entitled “Stigma.” Take some time to read what others have posted. If only a few posts have been made, you may want to check back later.