Addiction Doesn’t Happen in my Neighborhood

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By: Heather R. Hayes, M.Ed., LPC, CAI, CIP
December 11, 2017

Until recently, drug and alcohol use or addiction was considered a “lower class” affliction. Affluent families were assumed to be immune from the drugs and alcohol thought to plague hard-scrabble neighborhoods. Perhaps this was a byproduct of stereotypes perpetuated in the media, but nonetheless, the misconception persisted.

Consequently, it shocked people when someone like me, who came from an esteemed family whose members held white-collar jobs and who had every advantage available to her, became an addict. This “kind of thing” simply didn’t happen to kids from “my” neighborhood.

Of course, we now know there is little truth to these outdated notions about who abuses drugs and alcohol. Addiction extends to every neighborhood in every city, and socioeconomic boundaries simply don’t exist with respect to substance abuse. Not only is every community vulnerable, but research also shows that wealthier areas are impacted more frequently by teens and young adults who abuse substances with more regularity and at higher volumes.1

A composite of studies demonstrates that kids from more affluent homes are at a much greater risk of abusing the following substances:1

  • Alcohol (including frequent binge drinking): approximately 76% regularly drink and about 30% report binge drinking at least 12 times per year.
  • Marijuana: more than 50%.
  • Stimulants: 9.5% of male and 10% of female college students use non-prescribed Adderall; 6% of high school students do.

Motivating factors for these adolescents to use may be the intense pressure they feel from parents, teachers, or coaches to succeed, which leads to increased levels of anxiety and depression. Couple these overwhelming feelings with a lack of healthy coping skills and support, and substance abuse starts to look very appealing as a means of escape or a way to rebel against the expectations placed upon them.

Interestingly, research has also shown that parents in higher socioeconomic groups tend to have more permissive attitudes toward substance use. In fact, among a group of teens surveyed about how they acquired alcohol, 21.1% said a parent, guardian, or some other adult family member gave it to them.2

The truth is, it’s very easy for kids to procure drugs and alcohol, even if they don’t have money of their own. Other teens don’t want to party alone, so they are more than happy to share whatever they have. Teens are also quite resourceful when it comes to finding various drugs.

Research also illustrates that the best protective and preventative factors are parents taking an active role in their kids’ lives and being proactive about setting boundaries around substance use. Explicitly stating that using drugs is unacceptable, while also providing an open and safe environment to have the hard conversations around substance abuse, really does makes a difference.

It’s important not to be lulled into a false sense of complacency about the subject, convincing yourself that your child, your neighborhood, and your community is immune to the ravages of addiction. No one is immune, but we are not helpless, either. Be proactive within your home and community and resolve to fight back against drug and alcohol abuse no matter where you live.


  1. Patrick, M.E., Wightman, P., Schoeni, R.F., & Schulenberg, J.E. (2012). Socioeconomic Status and Substance Use Among Young Adults: A Comparison Across Constructs and Drugs.
  2. SAMHSA.

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