24 Sep Adolescent Alcohol, Drug Use Declines, Survey Finds
A report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published in August 2013 has revealed that more than one-quarter of adolescents drank alcohol, about one-fifth used an illicit drug, and almost one-eighth smoked cigarettes. Although the percentage of adolescents using alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs declined between 2008 and 2011, the percentage of people aged 12 to 17 receiving substance abuse treatment remained relatively stable.
The report into daily teen substance abuse comes from the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, a subdivision of SAMHSA that manages many databases relevant to the issue of teen substance abuse. These are the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Drug Abuse Warning Network, the Treatment Episode Data Set and the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services, and all of these sources of data were used to compile the report. It covers 2010 and 2011, and the majority focuses on 12 to 17 year olds (the other data set merely uses “under 17” as an age group).
First Substance Use
The researchers calculated the number of teens on an average day who used substances for the first time. Absolute numbers show that on any given day in the previous year, an average of 7,639 teens drank alcohol for the first time, 4,594 used an illicit drug, 4,000 smoked marijuana, 3,701 smoked their first cigarette and 2,151 abused a prescription painkiller. Hallucinogens and inhalants were the next most common classes of drugs for first usage, with cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin at the bottom of the list. However, in terms of percentages, only 10.3 percent of teens drank alcohol for the first time in the last year and 6.3 percent used an illicit drug.
Teens who drank alcohol consumed an average of 4.3 drinks per day on days they drank.
The Findings – Daily Substance Use Treatment and Emergency Department Visits
In total, there were fewer than 133,000 admissions to treatment programs in 2010 for Americans aged 12 to 17, and the admissions were mostly for outpatient treatment. Split across the various substances and per day, this translates to 266 reporting primary use of marijuana, 58 for alcohol, 12 for opiates (like heroin), 10 for stimulants, eight for other drugs and three for cocaine. For daily emergency department visits, marijuana topped the list again, leading to 165 visits; alcohol alone accounted for 110 visits and in combination with other drugs caused 87 visits. Other drugs were responsible for fewer visits, but it’s particularly notable that 74 visits per day were for use of prescription or non-prescription painkillers (however, only 26 of these were for narcotic painkillers).
What Does It All Mean?
The picture painted by the research above appears to be grim, but the report states in the introduction that there were 25.1 million teens aged 12 to 17 in 2011. This provides an important piece of information for drawing conclusions about the chance your teen is using drugs today, or right now, or anything else sensationalist reports would have you worry unduly about.
According to research, 7,639 teens drank alcohol for the first time on the average day, but that translates to less than one in 3,000—about 0.03 percent. On an average day, 881,684 smoke cigarettes, but even this number accounts for only 3 percent of teens. Similarly, you can determine that about 2.6 percent of teens will smoke marijuana on an average day.
Of course, any teen using drugs isn’t a good thing, but it’s important to remember that this report doesn’t mean that teens are all taking drugs every day, or that the majority do. The researchers themselves also note that there’s been a broad decline in teen use of illicit drugs, cigarettes and alcohol in recent years. However, if you do suspect your teen of taking drugs (for reasons other than statistics), then it’s something that is definitely worth investigating.
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