When we are unable to protect our girls, they begin to protect themselves. This protection usually comes from whoever and whatever is available in their immediate environments, such as belonging to a gang or a man who will keep strangers from harming them. Even when these relationships are abusive, this abuse is often more predictable, which gives an unprotected girl the feeling that they have some control over when and where they will be violated again. Substances are often used as a way for these girls to overcome the anxiety, fear, and self-hate accompanying traumatic experiences.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2008), among juveniles arrested for crimes in 2000, approximately 40% of females tested positive for substance use. Shin, Hong, and Hazen (2010) maintain that a past history of sexual and physical abuse is associated with female juvenile delinquency and substance use. Adolescents reporting extensive adverse childhood experiences were almost 10 times more likely to use illicit substances than adolescents not reporting adverse childhood experiences. Specifically, adolescents, who were traumatized in early childhood, we’re susceptible to developing inhalant abuse disorders (Perron & Howard, 2009).

Engaging families is the key to ensure that substance use and legal involvement does not continue into adulthood; however, family involvement serves as an ongoing struggle for treatment programs. Barriers associated with engaging family members in adolescent treatment can range from simple logistics to complex concerns, such as family members struggling with substance abuse and comorbid disorders (Nissen, 2006).

Considering that adolescents who abuse substances are not usually internally motivated to seek treatment, it is imperative that community members, families, and teachers play a critical role in referring youth to treatment. Once adolescents enter treatment, retaining support from these community organizations and educational institutions is necessary for their success (Battjes, Gordon, O’Grady, Kinlock, & Carswell, 2003). Raising our awareness in our families, communities, and workplaces may provide girls in need of protection with more opportunities to choose productive and effective ways of feeling safe.


Battjes, R., Gordon, M., O’Grady, K., Kinlock, T., & Carswell, M. (2003). Factors that predict adolescent motivation for substance abuse treatment. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 24, 221-232.

Bensley, L.S., Spieker, S.J., Van Eenwyk., & Schoder, J. (1999). Self-reported abuse history and adolescent problem behaviors. II. Alcohol and drug use. Journal of Adolescent Health, 24, 173-180.

Nissen, L. (2006). Effective adolescent substance abuse treatment in juvenile justice    settings: Practice and policy recommendations. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 23, 298-31

Perron, B.E., & Howard, M.O. (2009). Adolescent inhalant use, abuse and dependence. Addiction, 104, 1185-1192.

Shin, S.H., Edwards, E.M., & Hereen, T. (2009). Child abuse and neglect: Relations to adolescent binge drinking in the national longitudinal study of Adolescent Health (AddHealth) Study. Addictive Behaviors, 34, 277-280.

Photo credit: unsplash-logoEric Ward

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