Prevent Teen Drug Use
There is a popular misconception that virtually all young people use alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and often other drugs. However, despite the dangerous societal normalization of substance use among teenagers and young adults, national epidemiologic indicators show a surprising and important trend line in the prevalence of substance use among adolescents. In increasing and significant numbers, adolescents are choosing not to use any of these addicting, and for adolescents, illegal, substances.
To an important extent this striking trend reflects the steady decline in the past three decades of the use of alcohol and tobacco as well as of drugs that are illegal for adults. Over that time both alcohol and tobacco were been widely labeled “drugs” for the first time and thus come under the shadow of that worrisome term. This positive trend reflects the aging of the baby boom generation, a birth cohort that was more likely to abuse drugs than those who came before or after it, and as a cohort continues a pattern of use that is apparent in trend lines showing increasing substance use by older Americans. Read more about these changes in three IBH Commentaries: Reducing Future Rates of Adult Addiction Must Begin with Youth Prevention (2018), For a Healthy Brain Teens Make "One Choice" (2017) and It’s Time to Re-Think Prevention (2015).
Substance use disorders are chronic, often lifelong, illnesses, which, like obesity, have behavioral and biologic components. These disorders are associated with many short- and long-term health problems. IBH is currently engaged in a project that promotes adolescent primary health care providers to encourage their patients to refrain from the use of all of these substances, all of them – including alcohol and tobacco – are illegal for adolescents.
For a number of years IBH has studied the link between academic performance and the use of marijuana and other substances, publishing a report in 2012, American’s Dropout Crises: The Unrecognized Connection to Adolescent Substance Use, coauthored by IBH President Robert L. DuPont, MD and Amelia Arria, PhD, Director of the Center for Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
There is no constituency that supports the use by teens of any alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other drugs. Because nearly all substance use disorders can be traced to adolescence, the continuing decline in youth drug use holds great promise for reducing all of the later life problems resulting from use.