A recent survey of U.S. teenagers revealed that many have used drugs and alcohol by the time they reach adulthood, and researchers believe this could be setting many of them up for a future of substance abuse. According to Reuters, the survey of 10,000 teenagers showed that four out of five had tried alcohol, while 15% were abusing it by the time they were 18. Furthermore, 16% were abusing drugs by the time they were 18.
“It is in adolescence that the onset of substance abuse disorders occurs for most individuals,” said Joel Swedson, who headed up this survey and is the director of research at the National Center for Scientific Research in Bordeaux, France. ”That’s where the roots take place.” The study is based on interviews of 10,123 teens ages 13-18. Ten percent of teens were drinking alcohol regularly by the time they were 13 or 14, while almost half of the teenagers aged 17 and 18 were drinking regularly. Almost one in three of these 17 to 18-year-olds met the criteria for lifetime alcohol abuse. The median age for onset of alcohol use was 14.
Almost 60% of the teens claimed to have had the opportunity to use illicit drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, tranquilizers, stimulants, and painkillers. One in ten of the teenagers aged 13 to 14 had reported using one of these drugs, where almost 40% of the 17 to 18-year-olds had reported using drugs. The most common drug teenagers used was marijuana, followed by prescription drugs. The median age of onset of drug use was 14 with dependence, and 15 without dependence.
Susan Foster, vice president and director of policy research and analysis at National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, said starting to use addictive substances is particularly dangerous to younger people because their brains are still developing. She added, “There’s really a type of rewiring that goes on with continued use that can result in an increased interest in using and an inability to stop using.”
Swedson’s research team also advised for strategies to target adolescents aimed at preventing drug and alcohol abuse. These strategies need to be designed for this particular and unique group of the population. ”We don’t need to bombard them with information that is beyond their development, but don’t think a 13-year-old doesn’t know what cannabis is,” Swedson explained. This age group can vary dramatically in their knowledge of the world, and the tricky part is figuring out how to educate this precarious group in hopes of preventing substance abuse.