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The typical teenager sits back watching a new episode of 90210 or Skins while observing and riveting all of the drama, scandals, sex and drugs. They observe everything that is happening like a sponge, then go out late on a school night. They watch TV, surf the web, talk to their peers, then the experimenting begins.
It seems clear that obesity is no longer the No.1 public health problem .
A new study reveals that 90 percent of Americans who are addicted to tobacco, marijuana, alcohol or prescription drugs started using before they were 18 years of age. According to the researchers at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, their study found that one-quarter of Americans using any addictive substance before age 18 are addicted, compared with one in 25 Americans who started using an addictive substance when they were 21 or older.
Nearly half of all U.S. high school students now smoke, drink or use other drugs.
CASA reported that 75 percent (10 million) of all U.S. high school students have used addictive substances such as tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or cocaine, and that 20 percent of these students meet the medical criteria for addiction. Currently, 46 percent (6.1 million) of all U.S. high school students use addictive substances and one-third of them meet the medical criteria for addiction.
Nearly three-quarters (72.5 percent) of U.S. high school students have consumed alcohol, 46.3 percent have smoked cigarettes, almost 37 percent have used marijuana, about 15 percent have misused prescription drugs, and over 65 percent have used more than one addictive substance.
With access to television, the internet, and commercialism, U.S. teenagers are exposed to a lot of media and social pressures. It opens their eyes more to what is out there on the streets at a young age. This causes teens to want to experiment and see what is “out there.”
The fact that an adolescent’s brain is underdeveloped increases the chances that they will take risks, including using addictive substances that obstruct brain development, impair judgment and increase the risk of addiction. In teenagers, there is an unexpectedly high level of activity in the part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex.
The prefrontal cortex is a region known to be involved in multi-tasking and decision making. This suggests that their brains have to work harder to process any type of information. This also indicates that the brains of teenagers are working less efficiently than adults’ brains. When you mix that with drugs and alcohol, your teen will not function properly.
So who is to blame?
Could it be acceptance of substance use by parents, schools and communities? The widespread advertising of products such as alcohol and cigarettes? Or media depictions of substance use as harmless, glamorous, fun and relaxing?
It seems the answer is all of the above.
The most important thing is not who to point the finger at, but how to prevent and decrease this issue, which includes educating the public that teen substance use is a public health problem and that addiction is a medical problem. Also, effective public health strategies should be used to prevent or delay the start of substance use. The mass media should be encouraged to back off making tobacco and alcohol such an enticing product. Teens with substance use disorders should be given appropriate medical treatment; and, most importantly, teens’ parents should discuss drugs and alcohol with them and be a positive role model because their future is our future too.