Teenage drug abuse has been a concern for decades. Despite repeated studies and suggested solutions, no one has discovered the key to reversing the trend. While some drugs decline in popularity, new ones appear to take their place.
Richard A. Friedman, M.D. reported in the April 6, 2006 New England Journal of Medicine that the trend is away from street drugs like cocaine, marijuana and heroin and toward prescription medications. He used data gleaned from the Monitoring the Future Survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. They annually survey about 50,000 students in 400 public and private secondary schools in the United States.
Since 1989, amphetamines have maintained a steady usage rate of around 10% while narcotics (morphine, hydrocodone, etc.) have climbed from 4% to 6% in the same period. Add to this the 5% bounce produced by recent use of the narcotic OxyContin and the stimulant Ritalin and these statistics become alarming. Sedative, barbiturate and tranquilizer abuse have risen in incidence from 4% in 1989 to 6% in 2005. These numbers do not include the still significant number of street drug users or those who abuse alcohol.
There is another issue with these statistics. The students interviewed for this report are still attending school. How about all those who have dropped out? Many, if not most of those are likely using drugs and would skew these figures remarkably.
So, why are kids moving away from street drugs and abusing prescription drugs? Dr. Friedman speculates that teens think they are safer. They are also easy to obtain off the internet or by stealing them from parents.
Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to psychological and social damage from using drugs. In a world where perfection is demanded, or perceived that way, children moving toward adulthood feel intimidated and inadequate. Parents and teachers may not pickup on their needs or meet the demands of children. The child may search outside the home. They often find a ready relief for their stress in drugs or alcohol. For them, it is a magic and powerful potion, much more impressive than for adults who do not need drugs to pump up their ego. Once they find this solution for there low self-esteem, children will return to these quick cures until they are hooked.
But there is more to this story. Early teen years are a time when a person learns the social skills of adult life. They learn right from wrong, how to make friends and keep them, how to share and be a nice person. They learn all this by trial and error. When they make a mistake, someone corrects them and they feel bad. That sense of guilt induced by stepping across the line of propriety is the conditioning agent that modifies bad behavior. They may pout and protest but they process the information, live with the guilt and adjust their conduct.
When a young person discovers that drugs can suppress his or her guilt and make them feel better without the need to change behavior, they learn nothing. Their social skills gain nothing, they draw away from parents and sober friends and gradually sink into a dependency on drugs. At the same time their behavior becomes more antisocial. As time passes dependency spurs dependency.
The end result is a young adult with little or no conscience. They have unsafe sex, babies they don’t want and won’t care for and commit crimes and unprovoked violence. Sound familiar? They are the people you hear about on the news each evening or read about in the paper. Our prisons are full of people who started the slide down this slippery slope in their teen years.
It makes little difference what drug is abused. If a child of 10 to 18 years of age uses a mind altering agent, including alcohol, for two or more years, they are almost sure to have a lifetime of problems. They will use poor judgment, have trouble with relationships, not do well at work and have kids just like them.