Prevent Teen Drug Abuse through National Drug Facts Week
National Drug Facts Week, which is January 27 to February 2, 2014 and was developed by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, is designed to help teens shatter the myths about drugs and substance abuse. With the truth about drug use, teens can make better, smarter, and safer decisions, which can save their lives.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently released a report indicating that 22% of parents of children aged 12 to 17 think they have very little influence on whether or not their teen uses illicit substances, tobacco or alcohol. But in fact, national surveys consistently show that teens who believe their parents would strongly disapprove of their substance use were less likely to use substances than others. For example, current marijuana use was less prevalent among youth who believed their parents would strongly disapprove of their trying marijuana once or twice (only 5%) than among youth who did not perceive this level of disapproval (32%).
Parents and teachers have a strong influence on the choices teens make. Use this week as a reminder to talk to teens about drugs (yes, AGAIN – talking to teens about drugs is not a one-time conversation, but rather an ongoing discussion). Give them the real facts about drug use. Here are some key ideas to hit:
According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, 57% of high school students reported using alcohol, compared with 39% for marijuana and 12% for synthetic marijuana. Marijuana use among teens is on the rise. The growing perception among teens that marijuana is “safe” (only 39% of high school seniors think regular marijuana use is harmful) may be due to the highly publicized discussions over medical marijuana and marijuana legalization. There is also a myth that you cannot become addicted to marijuana.
Nora D. Volkow, MD, the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, recently said, “It is important to remember that over the past two decades, levels of THC – the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana – have gone up a great deal, from 3.75% in 1995 to an average of 15% in today’s marijuana cigarettes. Daily use today can have stronger effects on a developing teen brain than it did 10 or 20 years ago.”
Marijuana is NOT a safe drug. Give your teens these facts about marijuana:
- The chances of becoming addicted to marijuana or any drug are different for each person, but approximately 1 in 11 people who use it become addicted.
- The immediate effects of taking marijuana include rapid heartbeat, disorientation, and lack of physical coordination, often followed by depression or sleepiness.
- Studies show that the mental functions of people who have smoked a lot of marijuana tend to be diminished. The THC in marijuana disrupts nerve cells in the brain affecting memory.
- In men, an increased risk of infertility may result from changes in semen characteristics seen with marijuana smoking. In women, chronic use causes shorter menstrual cycles and increased prolactin levels, which may impair fertility.
- Long-term, marijuana smoke contains 50% to 70% more cancer-causing substances than tobacco smoke. Regular smokers of 3-4 marijuana cigarettes per day experience cough, wheeze, and abnormalities in the lungs equivalent to those who smoke approximately 20 tobacco cigarettes per day.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3,000 young people become regular smokers every day, which means that 1 in 5 teens smoke cigarettes. Give these facts to your teens:
- Most people who start smoking cigarettes in their teens become regular smokers before they are 18. Approximately 80% of adult smokers started smoking as teenagers.
- Smoking causes cancer, emphysema, heart disease, infertility, bad skin, yellow teeth, reduced athletic performance, depression, and increased risk of respiratory illnesses.
- While many waterpipe tobacco smokers and chewing tobacco users often think that their methods of tobacco use is safe, all available scientific data demonstrate that it is in fact dangerous and addictive, just like smoking. In recent years, there has been an increase in hookah use around the world, most notably among youth. The Monitoring the Future survey for 12th grade students found that in 2012, 18.3% of high school seniors in the United States had used hookahs.
Despite positive trends showing a decline in alcohol use among teenagers, alcohol is still the most abused drug in this age group. The average age a teen begins drinking is 13. Give your teens these facts about alcohol:
- In the U.S., about 5,000 people under age 21 die each year from injuries caused by underage drinking, nearly 40 percent (1,900) in car crashes.
- More than 4 in 10 people who begin drinking before age 15 eventually become alcoholics.
- High doses of alcohol seriously affect judgment and coordination. Drinkers may have slurred speech, confusion, depression, short-term memory loss, and slow reaction times.
- Alcohol can make good kids make really bad decisions, including many risky behaviors. For example, teens who drink are more likely to be sexually active and to have unsafe, unprotected sex. Resulting pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases can change — or even end — lives.
- Alcohol damages your brain, liver, and heart. It can make you feel depressed and even suicidal.
- When large amounts of alcohol are consumed in a short period of time, alcohol poisoning can result, which can lead to death.
The Partnership for a Drug Free America’s annual tracking study indicates that 1 in 5 teens has abused a prescription (Rx) pain medication, stimulant or tranquilizer. In 2007, prescription pain medications like Vicodin and OxyContin (the most popular drugs of choice among teens) were involved in more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.
Tell your teen that, depending on which prescription drug they abuse, serious health risks occur, including: vomiting, mood changes, decrease in ability to think, changes in heartbeat and breathing, seizures, increased body temperature, paranoia, coma, or death. This risk is higher when prescription drugs like opioids are taken with other substances like alcohol, antihistamines, and depressants.
Molly or Ecstasy
Molly, or Ecstasy, is a synthetic, psychoactive drug that produces feelings of euphoria, increased energy, emotional warmth toward others, and distortions in sensory and time perception. It is quite popular among attendees of music festivals and concerts. Emergency room visits related to Molly, or Ecstasy, rose 128% among people younger than 21 between 2005 and 2011, according to SAMHSA.
- This drug combines a hallucinogenic with a stimulant effect, making all emotions, both negative and positive, much more intense.
- Ecstasy causes increased heart rate, dry mouth, clenched jaw, cramps, blurred vision, chills, sweating, and nausea. Many users also experience depression, paranoia, anxiety, and confusion.
- Ecstasy also raises the temperature of the body. This increase can sometimes cause organ damage or even death.
Common Questions from Teens
Along with giving teens some facts about drugs, parents may want to address the most common questions teens ask. Below are answers from scientists that talked to teens at last year’s National Drug Facts Week conference.
What makes drugs so bad for you?
Drugs can be bad for you in lots of ways. Even occasional or experimental drug use can be dangerous, since drugs can have unexpected adverse health effects even with one use. And, drugs affect your ability to exert good judgment – making it more likely that you might engage in risky behaviors that can have serious consequences, such as driving while intoxicated. Prolonged drug abuse can cause all sorts of medical problems, such as lung cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and addiction. When someone is addicted to drugs, the drugs become the most important thing in that person’s life, causing them major problems at school, home, and work.
Why do drugs make people do odd things?
The short answer is that drugs alter your perceptions and your judgment. Different drugs do this in different ways. Some drugs make you overconfident, and some drugs decrease your ability to pay attention to the things going on around you, even when those events are critical to your health and safety (like seeing a red light while driving). Other drugs, like LSD, can change your perceptions so much that you can’t recognize people and things in your environment at all.
How can I avoid drugs and still be cool at parties?
When alcohol and drugs are readily available at parties, you may feel peer pressure to use them as a way to fit in. Remember first that the “coolest” crowds are the people who appreciate you for who you are, not for what you do or don’t do. Here are some tips on staying safe when you party:
- Find friends who don’t need drugs to party or find friends that like to do activities other than party, such as a trip to the movies or playing a volleyball game.
- Check out who’ll be at a party and what the plans are before you commit to something that may turn out to be an awkward situation for you.
- Stop to think before you make decisions that you might regret.
- Have an answer prepared for when a peer asks you to abuse substances. Some people find it helps to say “no” without giving an explanation, while others think offering their reasons works better, such as “I have a game tomorrow,” “my uncle died from drinking,” “I already got in major trouble for drinking once, I can’t do it again,” or “my coach would kill me.”
Parents do have the most influence on whether or not their teen engages in drugs. Use National Drug Facts Week to educate them for better choices. You can learn more about National Drug Facts Week at their website. They will be having an online chat on January 28.