The United States recognizes that it has a drug abuse crisis and it is a serious concern for all people as it affects everyone. According to the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “An estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older—9.4 percent of the population—had used an illicit drug in the past month” (Nationwide Trends). Our main concern is that many adolescents are beginning to abuse drugs at ages at young as 12 years old and there is not enough being done to stop these problems of early addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that, “Almost 70 percent of high school [seniors] will have tried alcohol, half will have taken an illegal drug, nearly 40 percent will have smoked a cigarette, and more than 20 percent will have used a prescription drug for a non-medical purpose” (Principles of Adolescent Substance Use). The top questions being asked are: how are adolescents being introduced to these drugs, what are the dangers behind them, and what are the long term effects and impact it is putting on their lives and the lives of others around them? There needs to be a stop on the drugs adolescents are being given and an awareness of how it is affecting them. There are many ways we can help adolescents stay drug free in their communities and keep those who use drugs safe from abusing them and help them through recovery. When is drug use first introduced to adolescents and when will this epidemic end?
There are many different types of drugs that people obtain both legally and illegally. The many different categories of drugs are empathogens, stimulants, depressants, opioids, psychedelics, cannabinoids, and dissociatives. The three different types of prescription drugs are opioids, depressants, and stimulants. Opioids are pain killers and examples of legally prescribed opioids are morphine, methadone, Buprenorphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone, while heroin is illegal in the United States. Opioids may be prescribed after a major surgery or injury for pain relief, for health conditions, or for chronic pain, but can be easily abused because they are addictive and withdrawal symptoms can be very severe. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that, “Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids” (Opioid Overdose Crisis). Depressants are drugs that produce central nervous system depression by calming nerves and relaxing muscles and can be used to treat anxiety related disorders, depression, and sleep disorders. Examples such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and cannabis can be obtained legally through prescriptions or some recreationally. Long-term use of depressants can cause depression, chronic fatigue, and overdose symptoms are caused by a decrease of oxygen flow to the brain, known as hypoxia. Stimulants increase alertness, attention, and energy, and some examples include Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, caffeine, nicotine, Methamphetamines, and cocaine. Prescription stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse are used for treating ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Caffeine and nicotine can be purchased legally in the United States while methamphetamines and cocaine are illegal. Stimulants can be dangerous as extended use of these drugs can cause, tremors, brain damage, heart attack, organ damage, and insomnia. Empathogens are, “A class of psychoactive drugs that produce experiences of emotional communion, oneness, relatedness, emotional openness—that is, empathy or sympathy—as particularly observed and reported for experiences with MDMA” (Empathogens). MDMA has shown to have no approved medical uses and it is illegal in most countries. Psychedelics, such as LSD, DMT, and mescaline, are illegal in the United States and are, “A class of psychoactive substances that produce changes in perception, mood, and cognitive processes” (Psychedelics). Cannabinoids, which are legal in most states for medical purposes if not recreational use, can reduce anxiety, relieve pain, and relax tight muscles. Dissociatives, such as ketamine and DXM, are, “A class of hallucinogen which distort perceptions of sight and sound and produce feelings of detachment – dissociation – from the environment and self” (Dissociative). Many are illegal, however some types can be found in over the counter medicines such as cold and cough medications. It is important that users understand the health risks, side effects, legal responsibilities, and reasons why they are taking the drugs they are consuming.
Gateway drugs are substances that lead to harder drug use and are very common in use by adolescents. The Center on Addiction writes, “The gateway drug theory purports that adolescent use of tobacco, alcohol or marijuana increases an individual’s risk of using and/or developing addiction to other licit and illicit substances that may be perceived as more harmful, such as opioids, cocaine and methamphetamines” (Gateway Drug Theory). The American Lung Association did a study and, “In 2015, 25.3 percent of high school students and 7.4 percent of middle school students used a tobacco product” (Tobacco Use). Tobacco use is very common among teens through electronic cigarettes, cigarettes, water-pipes, and cigars. Alcohol use is also very common among adolescents, as CBS News did a report in 2012 and found that, “78 percent of U.S. teens had drank alcohol in the past year” (Survey). In 2013, the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality did a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and their charts show that 65.5% of adolescents, between the ages 12-17, received past year treatment for marijuana use (Principles of Adolescent Substance Use). How are teens getting these tobacco and alcohol products if the age restriction in the United States is 21 buying of alcoholic beverages and at least 18 in most states for tobacco purchase? In the United States, in 2019 only 11 states have legalized the use of recreational marijuana, and New York has only allowed it for medical reasons. The U.S. News & World Report states that, “Studies show less than 20 percent of teens are getting Adderall from doctors” (Leonard). In the same survey, “Nearly 42 percent of high school seniors reported they thought amphetamines were easy to obtain.” Adderall and Vyvanse are often abused by students and adolescents to maintain focus, increase their ability to pay attention, and to stay awake. Some factors that may cause adolescents to start using gateway drugs are anxiety disorders, ADHD, depression, physical and/or sexual abuse, trauma, and peer pressure or use among peer groups. Gateway drugs can be very harmful, as they can lead to addiction along with health risks or even the use of harder drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines, or heroin.
A major concern about adolescents taking these drugs is how are they being affected mentally? The National Institute on Drug Abuse writes, “The teenage years are a critical window of vulnerability to substance use disorders, because the brain is still developing and malleable” (Principles of Adolescent Substance Use). When the brain is still malleable this is known as neuroplasticity, which can be defined as, “The ability of the brain to change continuously throughout an individual’s life” (Neuroplasticity). This is a time period in adolescence where the brain is not fully developed and drug use can have a large impact on it. Some damages that can be caused are reducing the ability to experience pleasure, creating problems with memory, interfering with neurotransmitters and damaging connections within the brain, and Inhibiting development of perceptual abilities (Why the Teenage Brain is Susceptible to Addiction). Dopamine is, “A neurotransmitter, one of those chemicals that is responsible for transmitting signals in between the nerve cells (neurons) of the brain” (Dopamine). Dopamine is what keeps us social and tells us to provide our bodies with what we need, such as food, water, and sleep, and its levels can be increased naturally through diets and exercise. Drugs such as alcohol and pills unnaturally raise dopamine levels in the brain and trick the person to thinking they need a substance instead of food or drinks. Adolescents do not realize the long term effects that can result from the use of gateway drugs at such a young age.
Drug use can have a long impact on families both financially and can hurt your relationships. Drugs can cost a lot of money and add up over time of addiction, and many teens may not have the money to afford these addictions. According to a survey done in 2018, “Youth enrolled in high school had an employment rate of 20 percent” (Youth Employment). How are adolescents getting the money to pay for their drugs and alcohol if most are not working? Adolescents may lead to stealing money from their family and friends, and if they are caught that can cause a loss of trust and hurt their relationships. Drugs can also be very expensive as, “Use can cost anywhere from less than $100 to several thousand dollars a month, depending on what drugs you use, how often you use them, and where you live” (How drugs hurt your family). Those who use drugs do not see the problems and hurt it causes in their families, as they are only concerned about themselves and their drugs. Everything else in your life becomes secondary and less important such as school, family relationships, friendships, sports, and work.
Another major concern is that are adolescents aware and being taught the dangers of drugs or is it too late? There are many support groups that are trying to prevent drug abuse and promote recovery such as SMART Recovery, Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. SMART Recovery stands for Self Management And Recovery Training and is “A self-help program that offers a place where teens can get together to try to look into and change behaviors that hurts themselves and others like smoking, drinking, fighting and using drugs, to name a few” (The SMART Recovery Teen & Youth Support Program). It uses a 4 point program and point 1 is to build and maintain motivation on the reasons to quit their addiction, point 2 is to cope with urges and understand that it is part of the recovery process, point 3 is to manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and find new ways of dealing with their problems, and point 4 is teaching them how to live a balanced and drug free life. D.A.R.E is, “An education program that seeks to prevent use of controlled drugs, membership in gangs, and violent behavior” (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). The D.A.R.E. Program has officers all around the country who go to different schools and communities and promote good decision making and resources for adolescents to reach out to for help for themselves and others they know that are struggling with substance abuse. SAMHSA is a National Helpline and is “A confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders” (SAMHSA’s National Helpline). They provide referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. They do receive many calls as, “In the first quarter of 2018, the Helpline received an average of 68,683 calls per month” (SAMHSA’s National Helpline). Although they do not provide support and counseling, they do transfer callers to the correct local support groups and counselors that may be able to help them. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids provides connections for you to talk to specialists through emailing, texting, and calling. This program will, “Get the resources you need to help address your son or daughter’s substance use, whether you’ve just discovered it or whether you need a new approach” (Partnership for Drug Free Kids). It is important that adolescents are surrounded by a loving and supportive community that is able to listen to them and help them recognize the mistakes they are making and how they can change. There are many treatment options that help adolescents quit drugs and all of these resources can help them get one step closer if not fully free of addiction or drug abuse.
A main concern is how are adolescents obtaining the drugs and alcohol they are abusing. There was a study done on fake ID statistics that found that, “About 12.5% of high school graduates use a fake ID to purchase alcohol before they start college” (Where Teens Get Illicit Drugs). Adolescents can get fake ID’s either online themselves by filling out their information and placing an order or many of their peers may make them and put the order in for them to save the buyers from making any mistakes. Teens are able to get drugs through classmates, coworkers, or anyone else in their community they know sells drugs. Even if buyers do not feel comfortable carrying certain drugs around with them, as it can be a felony in some cases, many drug dealers will even offer to deliver them to your house. They are also stealing drugs from family members, as they have easy access to them living in the same house. It is important for parents and other family members to keep track of the amount of pills they have left, just incase any seem to go missing and discard of any unused medications. There are many online sources that teens are ordering from that will mail drugs to your house in discreet packaging, so that nothing may look suspicious. It is very easy for adolescents to obtain drugs, that is why it is important for parents to be aware of what can be going on around them.
It is important that adolescents understand the laws regarding the possession, use, and selling of drugs and alcohol, especially underage. Many adolescents do not recognize that the possession and selling of these drugs and alcohol is illegal and can lead to a felony. In New York, the Marijuana Law Penalty Guide states that if you are in possession of more than 25 grams – 2 ounces, then it will be penalized as a misdemeanor, the fine will be $1,000, and you must serve 3 months of jail time. The drinking law of NY states that, “Individuals accused of underage drinking may face penalties including a fine, drug and alcohol education, and mandatory community service work” (Understanding underage drinking laws in New York). There may be some exceptions, as it depends how the alcohol was supplied and where the adolescents were at the time. Underage drinkers do not understand the legal precautions they need to take and where they can drink alcohol, as in NY if someone is hurt in another’s house and they had consumed alcohol, the person who was hurt has every right to sue the owner of the house. It does not matter where the guardians were at the time or if they even knew the adolescents had alcohol, since it was on their property it is their fault. It is important that adolescents and parents both know the laws regarding possession of drugs and alcohol especially in minors, as it may be a serious problem that if they are caught, can stay on their record forever.
There are many predictions for what is to happen in the future with drug abuse and recovery. Alcohol was legalized in the United States in 1920, and now with the legalization of marijuana being brought to cases, it is a concern that since the substance will be legally attainable nationwide, will there be more abuse to the drug. Those with, “A genetic predisposition or a family or personal history of addiction are always at greater risk of addiction” (The Future of Drug Use), which means that if more drugs become legal and easily accessible, will there be even more users to these drugs in the future? Addiction can be hard to break, as most times people try to become sober they end up relapsing and having to start over again. Although this may take much time and effort, it is important that people still recognize this as an addicts way of trying to quit, it will take a while for them to realize what is truly best for them and that a substance should not take over their life. Especially beginning at such a young age, adolescents have a high chance of going back to these drugs later in life. There have been new drug and alcohol vaccines that are given to addicts to lessen the high of these drugs, which prevents addicts from being able to enjoy the most pleasurable effects of these drugs, and will allow them to end their addictions more easily. We are also trying to recognize that many addicts that had been using for long term may now have psychological disorders and may require assistance through these problems to get used to sobriety. If adolescents get psychological disorders from using, they will have to live with them for the rest of their lives because of ignorant mistakes they made so early in life. The future of drug abuse is unknown, as laws are constantly being changed regarding drug use and how we can do more to prevent future addicts and how to help those trying to quit.
I see drug abuse as a serious concern in our society even in my own community. I have seen many adolescents become addicted to drugs at such young ages and the effects it puts on their family and friends. I personally have seen excessive consumption amounts of alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, lean, cocaine, Percocet, and Adderall at parties and festivals and have seen firsthand how it effects people and their behavior. These drugs can cause them to act in ways that they never would have before and can be dangerous both in the moment and later on in life due to their consequences. Many of my own friends are addicted to vaping and were unaware they were consuming nicotine when they first started, because now that there are reports of vaping related deaths and illnesses, they are struggling to quit their habits. I also have many friends who are addicted to marijuana and THC vape oils and have experienced withdrawal symptoms of feeling unmotivated and restlessness. Not only have these drugs affected their bodies, but it has also affected the relationships they have with their parents, friends, and school work. They have lost their parents trust, broken friendships that have lasted for years over irrational decisions, and some have dropped out of school to illegally sell drugs. Drug abuse in adolescents is such a hard topic to talk about, but the sooner more people get the conversation started, the sooner we can put an end to these addictions and save more lives.