National Study Shows Reverse in Decade-Long Declines in Teen Abuse of Drugs and Alcohol
Teenage use of drugs and alcohol has grown, marking a decade-long decline in substance abuse. This article shares insights on teenage trends and tips for talking to your teenager about drugs.
After a decade of consistent declines in teen drug abuse, a new national study released by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America® and MetLife Foundation points to marked upswings in use of drugs that teens are likely to encounter at parties and in other social situations.
According to the 2009 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, sponsored by MetLife Foundation, the number of teens in grades 9-12 that used alcohol in the past month has grown by 11 percent, (from 35 percent in 2008 to 39 percent in 2009), past year Ecstasy use shows a 67 percent increase (from 6 percent in 2008 to 10 percent in 2009) and past year marijuana use shows a 19 percent increase (from 32 percent in 2008 to 38 percent in 2009). The PATS data mark a reverse in the remarkable, sustained declines in several drugs of abuse among teens: methamphetamine (meth) was down by over 60 percent and past month alcohol and marijuana use had decreased a full 30 percent over the past decade from 1998-2008.
“These new PATS data should put all parents on notice that they have to pay closer attention to their kids’ behavior – especially their social interactions – and they must take action just as soon as they think their child may be using drugs or drinking,” said Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the Partnership.
Dennis White, president and CEO of MetLife Foundation added that “the earlier parents take steps to address a child’s drug or alcohol use, the greater the chance they’ll be effective in preventing a serious problem. We need to be sure parents know when it’s time to act, and how to act when confronted with a substance abuse situation.”
Parents Not Acting Early Enough, Need to Take Immediate Action
The resurgence in teen drug and alcohol use comes at a time when pro-drug cues in popular culture – in film, television and online – abound, and when funding for federal prevention programs has been declining for several years.
This places an even greater burden on parents. Among the parents surveyed for the PATS study, 20 percent say their child (ages 10-19) has already used drugs or alcohol beyond an “experimental” level. Among parents of teens ages 14-19, that percentage jumps to 31 percent, nearly one third.
Disturbingly, among those parents of teens who have used, nearly half (47 percent) either waited to take action or took no action at all – which studies show put those children at greater risk of continued use and negative consequences.
“We’re very troubled by this upswing that has implications not just for parents, who are the main focus of the Partnership’s efforts, but for the country as a whole,” said Partnership Chairman Patricia Russo. “The United States simply can’t afford to let millions of kids struggle through their academic and professional lives hindered by substance abuse. Parents and caregivers need to play a more active role in protecting their families, trust their instincts and take immediate action as soon as they sense a problem.”
Time To Act: Resource to Help Parents Take Immediate Action, Safeguarding Kids From Drugs and Alcohol
Discovering that a teen is using drugs or drinking is often a frightening experience for parents – many feel alone, ashamed, and confused about what to do next. The Partnership encourages parents of children who are using drugs or alcohol to take action as soon as they suspect or know their child is using and provides parents with free, anonymous access, to the most current, research-based information on how to help their child and their family take the next steps. Developed in collaboration with scientists from the Treatment Research Institute, Time To Act, offers step-by-step advice and compassionate guidance from substance abuse experts, family therapists, scientists and fellow parents to help guide families through the process of understanding drug and alcohol use, confronting a child, setting boundaries, and seeking outside help.
Because research tells us that kids in grades 7-12 who learn a lot about the dangers of drugs from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to ever use, parents are encouraged to have frequent ongoing conversations with their children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and take early action if they suspect their child is using or might have a problem. Parent visitors to drugfree.org can learn to talk with their kids about drugs and alcohol and take charge of the conversation with their kids.
No Improvement in Teen Abuse of Rx and OTC Medicines, Cigarettes, Inhalants, Steroids, Heroin
According to the PATS survey, teen abuse of prescription (Rx) and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines has remained stable with about 1 in 5 teens in grades 9-12 (20 percent) or 3.2 million reporting abuse of a prescription medication at least once in their lives, and 1 in 7 teens (15 percent) or 2.4 million teens reporting abuse of a prescription pain reliever in the past year. Eight percent or 1.3 million teens have reported OTC cough medicine abuse in the past year.
PATS shows more than half or 56 percent of teens in grades 9-12 believe Rx drugs are easier to get than illegal drugs. Also, 62 percent believe most teens get Rx drugs from their own family’s medicine cabinets and 63 percent believe Rx drugs are easy to get from their parent’s medicine cabinet, up significantly from 56 percent just last year.
Teen smoking rates have remained stable with 25 percent of teens reporting smoking cigarettes in the past month. Teen inhalant use remains steady at 10 percent for past year use, yet only 66 percent of teens report that “sniffing or huffing things to get high can kill you,” significantly less than the 70 percent of teens who agreed just last year. Inhalant abuse merits careful monitoring – as attitudes towards inhalant abuse weaken, abuse is more likely to increase. Steroid and heroin use among teens remains low at 5 percent for lifetime use.
The 21st annual national study of 3,287 teens in grades 9-12 and 804 parents is nationally projectable with a +/- 2.3 percent margin of error for the teen sample and +/- 3.5 percent for the parent sample. Conducted for the Partnership and MetLife Foundation by the Roper Public Affairs Division of GfK Custom Research, the 2009 PATS teen study was administered in private, public and parochial schools, while the parents study was conducted through in-home interviews by deKadt Marketing and Research, Inc. For more information or to view the full PATS Report, please visit drugfree.org.
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