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Teen Substance Abuse

National Survey Shows That One in Five High School Students Are Addicted

Researchers at Columbia University say that 75% of American high schools students have used drugs or alcohol and that 1 in 5 meets the medical criteria for addiction.

Researchers at The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University have just released the data from their annual survey of drug use in American high schools – and the results, they say, are nothing to celebrate.

Some key findings from the report, “Adolescent Substance Use: America’s No. 1 Public Health Problem", include:

  • 90% of adults with drug or alcohol addictions start abusing drugs and alcohol before the age of 18. Only 1 in 25 adults with drug or alcohol addictions had waited until the age of 21 to initiate substance use
  • 75% of American high school students have use cocaine, alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana and one in 5 is addicted to at least one of these substances (when you factor out the 25% who don’t use – 1 in 3 of those who have used alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine or marijuana are addicted to at least one of these substances)
  • Students are most likely to abuse alcohol, followed by marijuana, then cigarettes, then prescription drugs

CASA Vice President Susan Foster says the message parents need to take away from this is, “Do everything you can to get young people through their teen years without using drugs or alcohol,” she says. “Every year they don’t use drugs or alcohol reduces their risk of negative consequences, such as addiction.”

She reminds parents also that the teenage brain is still very much in development, and that teenagers are vulnerable to drug and alcohol experimentation because areas in the brain responsible for decision making, judgment and impulse control remain poorly developed. Unfortunately, she explains, “because the teen brain isn't completely developed, it's more sensitive to the impact and damaging consequences of drugs. The drugs increase the chance that kids will take risks and have impaired judgment, and that in turn impairs development and increases the risk of addiction."

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