Teens with Addiction Less Aware of How Their Actions Impact Others

Viewing alcohol ads may contribute to underage drinking.
Viewing alcohol ads may contribute to underage drinking.
The researchers interpreted study findings through a lens of social skills deficits tied to the disease of addiction.

Youth with alcohol and drug addictions appear less aware of how their behaviors and actions affect others around them, suggests recent cross-sectional research published in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse.

“We interpret study findings through a lens of social skills deficits tied to the disease of addiction,” the authors wrote. “Rather than a problem of moral character or psychopathology, alcoholics may be less sensitive to understand how their actions impact others.”

Maria E. Pagano, PhD, and her colleagues at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, collected data on 195 youths aged 14 to 18 years with alcohol dependency enrolled at a residential treatment facility in northeast Ohio. They matched these youths by age, gender, minority status, and zip code to 195 control youths with no history of alcohol use and to 195 youths with some history of alcohol use, all from 20 high schools in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

Defining “low other-regard” as “a behavior performed without focus on another’s needs and inclinations,” the researchers used unprotected sexual intercourse, driving under the influence, and low volunteerism as the 3 behavior measures of low regard for others. Low volunteerism meant spending less than 5 hours per month doing community service or helping others outside the home without pay.

All of the addicted youth had used alcohol and marijuana, and 49% had used non-prescribed schedule III/IV medications. Among the youth who had sometimes used substances, 82% had used alcohol, 45% had used marijuana, and 20% had used non-prescribed controlled medications.

Among all the youth, 77% had low volunteerism, ranging from 72% among sometimes-users to 84% among youth with addiction. Among the 26% who had driven under the influence at least once, 8% of the sometimes-users had done so compared with 57% of the youth with addiction. Overall, 55% of non-virgin participants did not use a condom the last time they had sex, including 38% of never-users, 56% of sometimes-users and 62% of users with addiction. Among the youth with an STD, 46 had had unprotected sex, including 13% of never-users with a sexually transmitted disease (STD), 60% of sometimes-users, and 90% of addicted users.

“There was a significant dose-response relationship between alcohol and other drug use severity and greater likelihood of [driving under the influence], having unprotected sex, and having unprotected sex with history of an STD,” the authors reported. “Recent neuroimaging genetic research shows evidence of addicts’ blunted responsivity to others,” they also noted.


Pagano ME, Swaringen SE, Frank SH. Low other-regard and adolescent addiction. J Child Adol Subst. 2016;25(3):268-276. doi:10.1080/1067828X.2015.1039684.