Is Teen Substance Abuse REALLY That Big of a Deal?
It would be an easy mistake to minimalize some of the MTF’s findings.
Some parents may even think, “Why is it such a big deal – isn’t it NORMAL for teens to experiment?”
It IS true that most parents drank alcohol or experimented with drugs when they were younger. Likewise, because marijuana is enjoying an increasingly-legal status, many parents believe that casual recreational use of “minor” drugs is a mostly-harmless personal activity.
But medical science has advanced considerably over the last generation. For example, when today’s parents were themselves teenagers, addiction was not viewed as an actual medical illness. Right now, it is universally accepted that a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is in fact a diagnosable disease of the brain with distinct symptoms and established treatment protocols.
Of special relevance, we now understand more about how the use of addictive substances triggers physical and chemical changes within the brain. Most significantly, we have learned that teenagers’ brains keep development until they reach their early 20s.
This is critical information – adolescents and teenagers are at much greater vulnerability to the lasting – and sometimes permanent – damage caused by substance abuse. And here’s the thing – the younger the teen, the greater the damage.
Lasting Consequences of Teen Substance Abuse
Take marijuana, for example. Here is what can happen to a teen who “just” smokes marijuana:
- Decreased IQ – Marijuana use before the age of 18 can cause an average loss of 8 IQ points. This loss is permanent.
- Memory impairment – Daily consumption alters the shape of the brain’s hippocampus, resulting in 18% poorer scores on retention tests.
- Mental illness – Chronic marijuana use increases the risk of schizophrenia, and DOUBLES the risk of psychosis.
- Aggression and Violence – Cannabis use is associated with a SEVENFOLD increased likelihood of criminal acts involving violence.
- Anxiety – Teen pot smokers are 3 times as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety.
- Depression – Teens WITHOUT depression who start using marijuana are 4 times as likely to be depressed at follow-up.
- Addiction – Marijuana use before the age of 18 results means an increased risk of Cannabis Use Disorder that is up to 7 times higher.
- Potency— 20 years ago, the average marijuana strain contained approximately 4% THC, on average. Today, modified strains reach an average potency of over 20% THC. Incredibly-powerful marijuana “wax” contains a staggering 99.7% THC.
Current Teen Substance Abuse Statistics
Knowing lifetime risk is important, because it lets parents know what their opinions. But it is even more important to understand which substances teens are abusing RIGHT NOW. “Current use” is when drug use and drinking is no longer just experimentation – it is a regular practice.
12th-grade past-month illicit use (rounded):
- Alcohol – 33%
- Been drunk – 19%
- ANY illicit drug/ inhalant – 26%
- Marijuana – 23%
- ANY prescription medication – 5%
- Amphetamine stimulants– 3%
- Alcohol – 20%
- Been drunk – 9%
- ANY illicit drugs/inhalant – 18%
- Marijuana – 16%
- Amphetamine stimulants – 3%
- Alcohol – 8%
- Been drunk – 2%
- ANY illicit drug/inhalant – 6%
- Marijuana – 6%
- Inhalants – 2%
- Amphetamine – 2%
What the Statistics about Teen Substance Abuse Tell Us
The most worrisome realization is how much drinking and drug use occurs among younger teens – 1 out of 5 15-16 year-olds and around 1 out of 12 13-14 year-olds
But just as striking is the availability of intoxicants.
- 53% 8th grade students report that it would be “fairly easy” – even “very easy”—for them to get alcohol.
- 35% say the same thing about marijuana.
- 10% of students in the 8th grade say they could easily obtain crack.
Allow that last statistic sink in for just a moment.
13-year-old adolescents can’t drive a car, and they aren’t allowed to work, they can’t see an R-rated movie, but over 10% of them have little problem finding crack cocaine.
That single representative fact alone shows why we all should be concerned about teen substance abuse.
By Albert Fontenot