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Developmental Stage Essay


Developmental Stage Essay

Taylor Hodges

University of Central Florida


February 9, 2008


Adolescence is a developmental stage, roughly from 12 to 18 years of age, in which young people struggle to find their identity. Erik Erikson’s psychosocial approach of developmental stages identifies adolescence as primarily a struggle between finding identity and languishing in role confusion (Harder, 2002). Erikson’s concept suggests the crisis of this stage, as with all others, must be solved before successfully moving to the next stage (Van Wormer, 2008). The tasks of adolescence are commonly considered difficult, but the introduction of substance abuse during this stage complicates development. This essay explores the primary task of identity development and the impact of substance abuse during adolescence.

Identity Task

The primary task of adolescence is developing identity. In the years prior to adolescence most development depends on factors outside the individual, what is done to the individual. However, the teen years initiate an internal struggle which is very much the opposite, what the individual chooses to do (Harder, 2002). Adolescence is an in-between stage in which individuals begin for the first time to define who they are apart from their family of origin. Adolescents begin to take responsibility for their role in society and decide what they will include and exclude from their life. Philosophy of life, role definition, views on politics and religion, and self-image are all confirmed or redefined during adolescence ( A fundamental and sometimes extensive evaluation is made during the teen years.


Complications and maladjustments during adolescence are sometimes experienced without the impact of substance abuse. However, substance use or abuse can lead to a variety of developmental problems. Experimentation, it should be noted, with drugs is common for adolescents, but most experimentation does not develop into addiction (The President's

National Drug Control Strategy, 2007). Adolescents who do become addicted add additional struggles to an already difficult stage of development.

One area of concern is social competence. Social competence is an important aspect of development during adolescence (Tarter, 2002). Substance use or abuse can impede the development of needed social skills. Depending upon the drug of choice, the substance abuse impact on social competence can vary from mild to severe. For example, marijuana use may lead to a lack of motivation or withdrawal from peers, but IV drug use may include high risk activities such as sharing needles or crime.

A second concern is school bonding and achievement. Drug use, and the resulting disciplinary consequences, hinders a sense of accomplishment leading to further identity problems. While many studies show a lack of school bonding is a risk indicator of substance abuse (Tarter, 2002), the indicators can be reversed and substance abuse can be a leading factor in the lack of school affinity.

A third concern is parental involvement. Parents who discover their adolescent is using drugs may respond with any number of role confusing actions including: denial, acceptance, violence, or abandonment. The adolescent’s sense of identity can be confused during these periods of parental response. For example, if an adolescent believes a parent knows of their drug use and does nothing, the parental denial promotes high risk and/or criminal behavior by the adolescent.

Adolescent developmental difficulties sometimes lead to additional problems years in the future. One study followed the onset of use of marijuana in adolescents and found early-onset in Caucasians and mid-onset in African American resulted in the greatest number of negative outcomes later in life. The negative outcomes included increases in past-year alcohol, marijuana, hard drug use, aggression, victimization, arrests, and number of sexual partners (Brown, 2004).


The primary task of adolescence is finding self-identity. While this task is formidable in and of itself, substance use or abuse hinders the healthy development of identity by slowing social competence, hindering healthy bonds with parents and school, and promoting role confusing responses from parents and other adults. The impact of substance abuse on adolescent development can range from mild to severe, but even a mild impact can stir the turbulent stage of adolescence, resulting in delayed development and potential problems in the next life stage.


Brown, T. L. (2004). Comparing the Developmental Trajectories of Marijuana Use of

African American and Caucasian Adolescents: Patterns, Antecedents,

and Consequences. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, Vol. 12, No. 1, 47–56.

Erik Erikson's 8 Stages of PsychosocialDevelopment. Retrieved February 9, 2008 from

Harder, A. F. (2002). The Developmental Stages of Erik Erikson. Retrieved February 9, 2008 from

Tarter, R. E. (2002). Predictor Variables by Developmental Stages: A Center for Substance

Abuse Prevention Multisite Study. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Vol. 16, No. 4S, S3–S10

The President's National Drug Control Strategy. Retrieved February 9, 2008 from

Van Wormer, K., & Davis, D. (2008). Addiction Treatment: A Strengths Perspective (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson, Brooks/Cole.

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