19 Jun Adolescent Drug Use America’s No. 1 Health Concern
Adolescents are in a rapidly developing stage of life. Their bodies are becoming stronger and more mature. They are developing a sense of independence outside the familial bounds. At the same time, young people are hungry to experience all that life has to offer. The very fact that their brain is in a period of explosive development means that adolescents are ready to take more risks.
But the fact that the brain is changing during these years also means that it is highly vulnerable to interruption or redirection. What this means is that teens are the most likely to take risks with drugs and they are also the most likely to suffer for it. When teens abuse drugs and alcohol, the risk of injury, illness and lowered lifetime achievement goes up. This leaves the rest of society paying the bill for risky teen behavior. The combination of health risks and health costs associated with preventable drug behavior has led one group to term adolescent drug use as the country’s leading health issue.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) conducted a study in 2011 which examined the prevalence and impact of teen substance abuse. Researchers performed a professional review on nearly 2,000 reports and scientific articles. They also gathered five teen focus groups and conducted 50 expert interviews. In addition, more than a half-dozen country-wide sets of data were examined. And investigators used online surveys to question 1,000 high school-aged kids, 1,000 parents and 500 school faculty members.
The CASA study found that:
- 75 percent of kids in high school have experimented with substances
- 46 percent of high school kids are presently using substances and one-third of them are addicted
- 72.5 percent used alcohol
- 46.3 percent had smoked a cigarette
- 36.8 percent had tried marijuana
- 14.8 percent abused prescription medications
- 65.1 percent are using/abusing more than a single substance
These statistics should trouble all Americans because using substances as a teenager raises the chances that the person will be faced with addiction all through life. According to CASA, nine of 10 U.S. adults with diagnosed addiction began drinking, smoking and drug use prior to age 18.
Helping teens avoid substance abuse can prevent a lifelong addiction battle and reduce health expenses. One out of four adults with addiction started using drugs and alcohol before age 18, but that figure drops to one out of 25 if the person waited until age 21 to use substances.
Even smoking cigarettes is enough to create a risk for drug addiction. This is because nicotine, alcohol and drugs all behave similarly within the brain. Using any one of those substances makes it easier to become addicted to other substances. The adolescent brain has an increased number of receptors, which make it that much more likely that using a substance can quickly transform into an addiction.
Part of derailing adolescent drug and alcohol use must include a shift away from current attitudes toward teen substance use. Media such as television and film have promoted an accepting attitude toward adolescent drug/alcohol use and in many cases have even glamorized it. At the same time, too many parents have communicated that they accept substance use as part of the growing up experience. The message sent to teens that drinking alcohol and using drugs is normative must change.
Teens face a greater potential for addiction as well as irreparable harm through substance abuse compared to adults. The culture must revert from an attitude that accepts teen drug use toward intentional intervention if we are to see the number of young people who abuse drugs reduced.
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