Most people who have a substance use disorder started using drugs or alcohol before age 18. Preventing drug and alcohol use by young people could greatly decrease their chances of suffering from addiction. October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, and it is a valuable opportunity to start the conversation about the dangers of youth substance use.
Just like with any disease or disorder, preventing addiction is better than treating it. National Substance Abuse Prevention Month was first observed in 2011, and it serves as a reminder that we still have much work to do to curb addiction among our youth. Before we look at why prevention is always the best option, let’s look at the problem itself.
Youth Substance Use in the U.S.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide a wealth of information about the prevalence of youth substance use in the U.S. Here are a few alarming statistics…
- Around two-thirds of young people have tried alcohol by their final year of high school.
- About 40 percent of high school students have smoked cigarettes.
- Approximately half of high school students have tried marijuana.
- Nearly 20 percent of high school seniors have used a prescription medication that wasn’t prescribed to them.
- Around one-tenth of the alcohol consumed in the U.S. is consumed by people under the legal drinking age.
The brain is in a critical stage of development during teenage years. Substance use can impact the brain’s development and make addiction more likely later in life. These statistics tell us that many young people are engaging in behavior that could have major consequences on their physical and mental health. Teenage substance use increases the chances of heart disease, high blood pressure and sleep disorders.
Substances That Lead to Youth Addiction
Young people are exposed to many different types of addictive substances in high school. These are some of the most commonly used substances among high school seniors.
- Alcohol – Around 30 percent of 12th graders reported using alcohol in the past month.
- Marijuana – Nearly 12 percent of high school seniors reported using marijuana daily.
- Nicotine – Though cigarette use has declined among young people, vaping has increased dramatically. More than one-quarter of 12th graders reported vaping nicotine.
- Prescription drugs – Among high school seniors, 2 percent reported taking nonmedical prescription opioids, and 6 percent reported misusing stimulants.
The good news is that drug use among young people is largely holding steady at historic lows. Teenagers are using less alcohol, cigarettes, heroin, prescription opioids, MDMA, methamphetamine, amphetamines, sedatives and ketamine than young people in previous years. That’s significant progress, but the numbers also tell us that we clearly have a long way to go.
How Substance Use Impacts Young People
The developing brain of a teenager is still very malleable. The reward and pain centers of their brains are more developed than the decision-making, emotion-regulating centers. This makes young people more likely to pursue pleasure and avoid pain during a time in their lives when their judgment isn’t fully developed.
Substance use hijacks the brain’s normal processes by flooding reward receptors with dopamine. This establishes patterns of use and impairs self-control. When the developing brain is altered through substance use, it can create a destructive cycle that lasts well into adulthood. Repeated substance use has many consequences, including mental health issues, relationship difficulties, problems at school, impaired memory, increased risk of contracting infectious diseases, and loss of interest in constructive activities.
Taking Advantage of National Substance Abuse Prevention Month
October is a great time to observe National Substance Abuse Prevention Month and begin the conversation about the importance of prevention. The National Institute on Drug Abuse offers researched-based programs to help prevent substance use among young people. These programs offer risk-assessment tools and guidance for discussing substance use in group or individual settings. Open discussions with young people about the dangers of substance use are part of the many strategies suggested by health experts.
It’s important to make sure young people have access to meaningful relationships and activities that keep them engaged in healthy ways. They should have people in their lives that they can talk to about their problems. Communication is such an important part of substance use prevention, and it is always a two-way street. We not only need to inform young people about addiction risks, but also make sure they have someone to turn to when they feel lonely, depressed, anxious or pressured in their own lives.
If You Need Help, It is Available
Though prevention is the best option for young people who have never misused substances, treatment is essential for those who are currently living with a substance use disorder. At Sober Austin, we offer resources to people who need help. Please browse our site to learn more about coping with substance use disorder. If you or a loved one wants to find someone to speak to, we encourage you to give us a call at 512-981-6572 or send us an email at email@example.com.