With the fourth of July holiday coming up, research is showing that ER visits double due to alcohol and drug related accidents and injuries. Coupled with that, teenage substance use is up across the board, following a decades long decline. Lastly, girls, for the first time in many years, are catching up with their male counterparts in the amount of alcohol and drugs they use. What’s happening with today’s teens that use is happening more and in more dangerous situations? I answer some of these questions below, and include some ways parents can intervene.
I spoke on The Early Show about this disturbing trend as well on Thursday, July 1, and include the clip at the end of the blog entry.
Drug and alcohol use seems to be on the upswing following a period of consistent decline over the past year amongst adolescents. Both teenage boys and girls in grades 9-12 are increasingly using alcohol (up 11% in past year), ecstasy (up 67% in past year) and marijuana (up 19% in past year). (from 2009 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study)
Not only is use increasing for all teens, it is especially changing for teenage girls, who appear to be drinking more alcohol and using more marijuana, almost as much as their male counterparts.
WHY HAS USE INCREASED?
Teen attitudes toward drugs and alcohol have changed. Drugs and alcohol have become much more socially acceptable. There is a perceived positive benefit and acceptability, with teens saying things such as: “being high makes (me) feel good” and that it “helps me fit in with my friends.”
More specifically for girls, they notice and perceive the benefits even more. Up to 70% of girls surveyed in the Partnership for a Drug-Free America reported that alcohol helped them cope better by allowing them to forget about problems they are having at home, with friends, etc. Alcohol and marijuana make them feel more at ease and allow them to have more fun in the short-term. Basically, it takes the edge off their problems.
WHY THE GENDER SHIFT?
It’s hard to say exactly but one reason is that girls haven’t been on the radar as much. Historically, boys are the impulsive, reckless ones who experiment with drugs. Parents haven’t been looking at their girls in the same way. Additionally, I think that girls have historically been thought to talk about their problems, as they are more socially connected. Using drugs and alcohol is more of an acting out (or avoiding) of problems, which is not always connected with girls.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
Research has shown that parents who have early and ongoing discussions with their children about drugs and alcohol can decrease their child’s chance of using significantly (up to 50%). Being an involved (but not overinvolved) parent can be a huge protective factor. In fact, as with most things, the earlier a parent does get involved, the better the chance of thwarting a potentially big problem with drugs and alcohol.
If you sense there is a problem, don’t be afraid to ask. Trust your instincts and act on your concerns.
It is important to know what to say, how to say it and when.Find a teachable moment…they are everywhere and allow for many opportunities to talk with your teenager about what she would do in a certain situation, how she expects people to act, etc.
Be real…if you are worried that your daughter or son is engaging in substance use, be gentle and direct. Express your concerns and talk about the expectations of not using, consequences if there is use, etc.
Provide information….saying no to a friend is a teenager’s worst nightmare. It’s so difficult to refuse something that everyone else is doing. You may have to talk with your teen on what and how to say no.
Have realistic expectations….most teens are going to experiment with drugs at some point. It’s developmentally appropriate. Be careful not to overreact to an occasion use at a party. Be involved and aware of how occasional is occasional and act when necessary.
Be safe this weekend.
This is really useful information for parents and adults to know about teens. I have tried to reach out to teens as well directly about alcohol use – focusing on binge drinking and alcohol poisoning – in my teen health blog – Real Talk with Dr. Offutt (http://drlauraoffutt.blogspot.com/). I hope this adds to the discussion.