If you read the newspapers, listen to the radio or watch TV, you know that in this country, we have a problem with teenage abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. How big a problem? It depends who you listen to. For example, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, which collects data on drug use among students in 8th, 10th and 12th grade students, several important trends are evident. Here are some highlights:
Some of the positive trends:
- Marijuana use among eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders, which has declined a bit since the mid-1990s, appears to have leveled off with 10.9 percent of eighth graders, 23.9 percent of tenth graders, and 32.4 percent of twelfth graders reporting past year use.
- Since 2001, the overall use of drugs by young people had dropped by 24 percent (alcohol by 15 percent, marijuana by 25 percent, ecstasy by 54 percent, and methamphetamine by 64 percent). Come 2008, the decline was 25 percent ... 900,000 fewer young people using illegal drugs than there were in 2001.
- In 2008, 20.4% of 12th graders reported smoking cigarettes in the past month, a substantial decline from the most recent high of 36.5% in 1997.
- Past-year use of illegal drugs aside from marijuana is down from 13.1% in 2007 to 11.3% in 2008. The same goes for the use of crystal meth, from 1.6% to 1.1%.
- 8th, 10th, and 12th graders are continuing to show a gradual decline in their use of amphetamines, methamphetamine, cocaine, and crack.
- In 2008, 15.4 percent of 12th graders said they abused prescription drugs within the past year. Among those, nearly 10 percent reported past year nonmedical use of Vicodin, and 4.7 percent reported abusing Oxycontin, both opioid painkillers. The survey notes that seven of the top 10 drugs abused by 12th graders in the year prior to the survey were either prescribed or purchased over-the-counter.
- Marijuana remains to be the most commonly abused substance among teenagers in the United States. Of the teenagers surveyed by the MFT in 2008, 26.9% have reported using it.
For many parents finding out that their son or daughter is struggling with teen drug abuse is a catastrophic revelation. For many of them there are thoughts of failure, disappointment, guilt, and embarrassment. Parents need to remember that they are not the only ones to face such a situation. And perhaps more importantly, many families have overcome teen drug abuse.
Parents need to remember that today’s teenagers are not using as much cocaine, crack, LSD, and ecstasy as their counterparts did in the 1960’s. But today’s kids have found other ways and means to get high. They are more likely to turn to painkillers and other prescription drugs. And these are being abused at record levels.
What we’ve found is teens are often getting caught raiding their parent’s or grandparent’s medicine cabinets in order to get high. For the first time, national studies show that today’s teens are more likely to have abused a prescription painkiller than any illicit drug.
The reality is - it is impossible to predict whose teenager will experiment and stop and which one will develop serious problems. So here are some warning signs you should be looking for because they are of teenagers at risk for developing serious prescription drug dependency:
• A family history of substance or alcohol abuse
• Low self-esteem
• Feel like they don’t fit in and are not popular with the mainstream
• Frequently feel sluggish and have difficulty sleeping
• Aggressive and rebellious attitude toward authority figures
The basic fact is that teen substance abuse affects the family especially as they become more hostile, and their decision-making ability becomes impaired. Teens who are abusing drugs set a bad example for their younger siblings and create much more hostility to the family as a whole. This behavior should not be tolerated by parents and appropriate help should be sought immediately.
Here are some things that you should share with your teen about prescription medications:
• Pharmaceuticals taken without a prescription or a doctor’s supervision can be just as dangerous as taking illicit drugs or alcohol.
• Abusing painkillers is just like abusing heroin because their ingredients are similar (both are opiates).
• Prescription medications are powerful substances. When prescription medication is not used for sickness and not administered by a professional, it becomes a controlled substance and the impact on the person can be deadly.
• It is extremely dangerous to take pills that are unknown.
• Mixing drugs with other substances is very dangerous. Some people have allergic reactions to different chemicals when they are mixed together.
What can you do to help prevent teens or any other person from getting involved with prescription drug abuse? The best thing to do is keep your prescription drugs in a safe place: don’t put them in the medicine cabinet in your bathroom because that is the first place teenager’s will look. If possible, lock them up in a cabinet or safe box. Know what your teen is doing and who they are doing it with. And perhaps most importantly, talk to your teen and warn them of the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
There are many options for available to parents who have a child involved with teen substance abuse. Some of these options include: enrollment in a specialty boarding school or residential treatment center or a short-term drug detox hospital.
But first, call NCADD of Middlesex County, Inc’s Referral Hotline at 732-254-3344. We have the information and resources to put you in touch with the best course of action for your teen. Remember that there is a great deal of help available if parents are able to get the troubled teen the appropriate intervention.