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Adolescent Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse in Teenagers - A Growing Epidemic

Each year the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) conducts the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. The 2013 results were published in January 2014. The survey includes extensive questioning of participants from the 8th, 10th and 12th grades.

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The 2013 report can be interpreted as improvement across several areas of teen drug abuse, but the trends still present an overwhelming overview of a generation in trouble. Despite the rising acceptance and increasing use of marijuana in all teen classes, the non-medical use of prescription and over-the-counter medicines represents a large and disturbing element in the teen drug abuse landscape.

Identified Teen Drug Abuse Trends in 2013

Teens are increasing their use of marijuana across all grades surveyed. Teens are also less inclined to believe marijuana represents a high risk level as compared to their perceptions in the 1990's. In 1975, 36.4 percent of teens perceived that marijuana use represented elevated health, social or legal risks. In 2013, the perceived risk factor of marijuana decreased to 19.6 percent. Since the mid-2000's, marijuana use by teens has been on the rise.

In 2013, 7.0 percent of 8th grade students in the US used marijuana in the 30 days prior to the MTF survey. 18 percent of 10th grade students and 22.7 percent of 12th grade students used marijuana in the 30 days prior to the survey.

2013 marijuana usage is significantly higher than in 2008 when 5.8 percent of 8th graders, 13.8 percent of 10th grade students and 19.4 percent of high school seniors used marijuana in the 30 days prior to the MTF survey. The daily usage of marijuana by teens is also on the rise. 6.5 percent of high school seniors say they use marijuana every day. That compares to 5 percent in 2005.

Survey administrators conclude that the high profile legalization of marijuana debates and new laws have moved many teenagers toward this drug. In all states that have legalized marijuana, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to purchase or use the drug.

Synthetic marijuana, also known as Spice or K2, is comprised of herbal mixtures that are laced with synthetic chemicals similar to THC. The chief ingredient is marijuana. The use of synthetic marijuana was originally included in the 2011 MTF survey. At that time, 11.4 percent of seniors reported use of synthetic marijuana in the previous 12 months. By 2013, the use of synthetic marijuana dropped to 7.9 percent.

The 2013 MTF survey listed the use of drugs by high school seniors in the last year as follows:

  • Marijuana- 36.4 percent
  • Synthetic marijuana - 7.9 percent
  • Adderall - 7.4 percent
  • Vicodin - 5.3 percent
  • Cough medicine - 5 percent
  • Tranquilizers - 4.6 percent
  • Hallucinogens - 4.5 percent
  • Sedatives - 4.8 percent
  • Salvia - 3.4 percent
  • Oxycontin - 3.6 percent
  • MDMA - 4 percent
  • Inhalants - 2.5 percent
  • Cocaine - 2.6 percent
  • Ritalin - 2.3 percent

In 2013, 15 percent of the 12th graders in the US reported using a prescription medication for a non-medical use. Many of these drugs are described as highly addictive.

The Dangerous Effects of Teen Drug Abuse

Teen drug abuse has identifiable side effects that are dangerous.

Drug abuse by young teens has a high prevalence toward the development of substance abuse and addiction. Teens that abused drugs and become addicted have an increased tendency to relapse during rehabilitation and in aftercare.

Drug abuse most often interferes with the teen's inability to concentrate.

Teens that use drugs are more inclined to partake in unprotected sex than teens who do not use drugs. Teenage girls have a higher risk of pregnancy than teens that do not use drugs. Teen girls who use drugs are also at higher risk of sex crimes like rape and sexually transmitted disease than teen girls who do not use drugs.

Teen drug abuse often masks underlying and serious emotional conditions such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Hallucinations
  • Low self-esteem

Anabolic Steroids

The use of anabolic steroids by teens is associated with male impotence and clitoral enlargement in women.

Other symptoms of teen anabolic steroid abuse include:

  • Heart attacks
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Cancer
  • Acne
  • Compromised immune system
  • Baldness
  • Stunted growth
  • HIV/AIDS

The body systems in teens are especially vulnerable to drug abuse.

  • Inhalants have been linked to brain damage in teens.
  • Teens have suffered serious heart attacks and stroke and fatalities after incidents of drug abuse.
  • Teens who abuse sedatives are at risk of serious respiratory problems.

Symptoms of Teen Drug Abuse

  • Teens who abuse drugs increase their tolerance for the drug.
  • The teen brain is not fully developed and is that much more unable to control teen impulses.
  • Teen substance abuse is attributed to a number of factors, including Family, Genetic disposition, Social factors, and Environment

While genes can play a role in teen drug abuse and addiction, it is only one of several possible contributing factors.

Behavioral Signs of Teen Drug Abuse

The following signs are indicative of teen drug abuse:

  • Abrupt change in behavioral patterns
  • Change in relationships
  • Disrespect for family, friends, teachers and rules of the home
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Mood changes
  • Emotional instability
  • Loud, obnoxious behavior
  • Senseless laughter
  • Clumsiness and awkwardness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Withdrawn
  • Depression
  • Overtired
  • Uncommunicative
  • Hostile
  • Uncooperative
  • Secretive
  • Excuses
  • Decreased Motivation
  • Inability to focus
  • Hyperactive
  • Unusually elated
  • Disinterest in hobbies and school

Physical Signs of Teen Drug Abuse

Most teens show signs of personal appearance and physical signs of drug abuse.

  • Messy room
  • Disorderly appearance
  • New, bad personal hygiene
  • Track marks on arms or legs
  • Wearing long sleeves in warm weather to hide marks. Track marks appear as small red marks or open sores and bruising.
  • Burn marks
  • Soot on fingers or lips
  • Complexion is flushed

If these signs appear, it is time for a conversation about the teen's activities. Counseling may defuse some of the emotion and help to get the teen on a course to recovery. In highly emotional discussions, professional intervention might be the recommended first step.

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