The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse conducts an annual survey with 45,000 teenagers ages 14-18 across the country in public and private schools. The results for 2016 uncovered remarkable numbers. Teen drug abuse is at its lowest level in decades.
37 percent of high school seniors reported being drunk at least one time this year, which is down from 53 percent 15 years ago. Teenage use of prescription pain killers dropped 45 percent compared to 5 years ago. The use of marijuana, however, remains the same for 12th graders at 22.5 percent reporting use within the past 6 months. 6 percent claiming daily use.
The legalization of marijuana in several states has created an idea that it is not harmful to one’s health. Until further studies are completed on the what long term use of marijuana does to the brain, some teens may believe regular use is not dangerous.
Why is Teen Drug Abuse Down?
The director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nora Volkow, regards understanding why teen drug abuse is down is important to trying to sustain it. The experts studying this data have hypothesized several reasons why fewer teens are drinking alcohol and using drugs.
Some believe the decline in cigarette smoking may be partly responsible for the broader decline since it is a gateway to other drug use. Only 5 percent of 12th graders smoke cigarettes daily compared to 22 percent two decades ago. Another possibility is educators and parents guiding teens in a healthier direction. Physicians prescribing opiates less frequently is another contributor. Some even suggest social media and video games serving as distractions are keeping teens at home and away from peer pressure.
All of these reasons are likely to be beneficial in steering teenagers away from substance abuse. Let’s focus on what parents can do for their child. Starting with an open and compassionate discussion regarding drug and alcohol use is helpful to gain a teen’s trust. Knowing where a teenager is and who he is with, provides accountability and security for the child. Teenagers are still kids and need to be guided. The idea of being home more in order to avoid peer pressure, leads to suggesting a teen may benefit from a delay in going off to college right after high school.
A Drug Abuse Crisis in the United States
The United States is in the middle of a drug crisis. More people are dying from drug overdoses than ever. If teenagers are using substances less, than who is using them? 18-25 year olds have the highest rate of substance abuse in America, in which few receive the help they need from attending a drug rehab center. After a teen leaves home, he no longer is under the guise of adults, has no accountability and must fend off peer pressure while trying to manage life on his own. Unfortunately, many falter to what the crowd is doing and easily fall prey to substance abuse.
Because of the success reported with high schoolers, the same model could be used with young adults. High school graduates would work, intern, or take classes while living at home for a year or two. These young adults would have the opportunity to gain maturity and confidence, consequently, lowering drug and alcohol abuse for individuals 18 years and over. Responsibility and accountability at home for a year after high school may be lifesaving.