"Adolescent patterns of substance abuse are very different from drug use patterns in adults. The uniqueness of adolescent drug abuse means that drug-dependent teenagers usually are not successfully treated with adult-directed therapy.”
~Dr. Ken Winters, Adolescent Substance Abuse: New Frontiers in Assessment
Today’s teenagers face drug and alcohol dangers that did not exist in generations past – synthetic drugs, powerful prescription opioids, and marijuana that is stronger than ever before.
At the same time, intoxicating substances are frightfully easy to obtain – synthetic drugs are sold in the open or on the Internet, opioid painkillers are often over-prescribed, and marijuana is enjoying an increasingly-legal status. In fact, over a fourth of teenagers report that they can buy marijuana in less than an hour.
Here’s the biggest problem – alcohol or drug use while their adolescent brains are still developing can result in profound consequences – poor academic performance, impaired social development, limited future opportunities, and even risks to their physical and mental health.
Most teens and adolescents who try alcohol or drugs go no further than that initial experimentation, but a significant percentage of users will eventually progress to full-blown substance abuse, dependence, and addiction.
Teenage Alcohol and Drug Use in America
There is a POSITIVE – the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that many categories of substance use among adolescents/teenagers are at their lowest point in years.
But there is also a NEGATIVE – too many American youth have a false perception of the hazards of substance use, leading some teens to experiment with drugs they believe are “generally safe”.
Take a look at use rates for specific substances by different grade levels – 8th, 10th, and 12th:
- Alcohol – Encouragingly, 2015 vs 2010, alcohol use at all levels has decreased, and especially past-month use:
- 8th – 9.7% vs 13.8%
- 10th – 21.5% vs 28.9%
- 12th – 35.3% vs 41.2%
Binge-drinking among high school sophomores and seniors is also significantly down.
- Cigarettes – Teen/adolescent daily smoking is currently at its lowest point in the entire history of the Monitoring the Future survey:
- 8th – 1.3% vs 2.9%
- 10th – 3% vs 6.6%
- 12th – 5.5% vs 10.7%
The declining rate of smoking a model 12th-graders really stands compared to 1997, when the rate was 25%.
- Opioids – Teenage opioid misuse – prescription medications/heroin – is at its lowest point in the MtF survey’s history.
- 12th- grade prescription opioid misuse is approximately half of what it was 10 years ago.
There is still room for improvement in this area. Almost 60% of teens who misuse opioids self-report that a friend or relative gave them the medication. Less than 1 in 5 of opioid-abusing teenagers stole the drugs from a family member or friend or bought them from a dealer.
- Synthetic marijuana – 2012-2015, there was a steady decrease in past-year synthetic marijuana use among high school seniors, 11.3% vs 5.2%.
- Marijuana – Past-month use of marijuana at all grade levels is remaining steady, even though laws are loosening.
- 8th – 6.5%
- 10th – 14.8%
- 12th – 21.3%
- 6% of high school seniors self-report using marijuana DAILY
Unfortunately, the way that high school students think about marijuana HAS changed – just 31.9% of 12th-graders belief that the regular use of marijuana puts the user at any real risk. In 1991, 78.6% of high school seniors thought that marijuana was dangerous.
Here are the statistics about the most-frequently-used substances among US 12th-graders, excluding cigarettes:
- Alcohol – 58.2%
- Cannabis – 34.9%
- Amphetamine – 7.7%
- Adderall – 7.5%
- Non-heroin narcotics – 5.4%
- Synthetic marijuana – 5.2%
- Benzodiazepines – 4.7%
- Codeine/cough medicine – 4.6%
- Vicodin – 4.4%
- Hallucinogenic drugs – 4.2%
- Oxycodone – 3.7%
- Ecstasy – 3.6%
- Sedatives – 3.6%
Teenage substance abuse is an all-too-real reality for many families, but meeting the unique needs of adolescent alcoholics and drug users can be frustrating when searching for appropriate services. Teenagers can face issues unique unto them, and using a “one-size-fits-all” approach to treatment does them a disservice.
If they are to have a successful, long-lasting lasting recovery, teenage substance abusers require specialized addiction recovery services that can be tailored to their needs. Only then can they get the help that will allow them to get their life back on track.
By Albert Fontenot