Teen drug use at ‘all-time lows’: How to keep it there

Fewer teens are using drugs, alcohol (WTOP's Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON There’s reassuring news for parents of teenagers in the U.S.: Teen drug and alcohol use is at an all-time low.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, has been tracking the trends for decades with its “Monitoring the Future” annual report, and the latest data show that while marijuana use holds steady, cigarette, prescription drug and binge drinking rates among high schoolers have declined.

“It’s actually one of the myths that we’re trying to bust. The sense is that most kids want to use drugs, but the kids are telling us otherwise,” said Jack Stein, director of the Office of Science Policy and Communication at NIDA.

“Teens are using less substances across the board than ever before.”

Pinpointing the “why” behind the drop is what Stein calls “the million-dollar question.” Evolving attitudes and perceptions around drug abuse, as well as exposing the impact drugs have on the body through advanced research, are likely contributors

“It’s really important for kids to recognize that their brains, just like their bodies, continue to develop, and the last thing you probably want to do is to affect one’s brain development, and that’s unfortunately what drugs can do,” Stein said.

Parents can play a role in keeping teen drug rates down. Most critical is maintaining an open dialogue with your child and sticking to the facts. For example, let your child know that experimenting with drugs is not the norm or “typical high school behavior.”

“I think it’s really important for kids to recognize that not everyone is doing it, which of course is a myth sometimes that is very pervasive in school environments,” Stein said.

Educating teens on addiction — a disorder that affects the brain, and thus behavior — is another step. 

“Kids’ brains are developing until their mid-20s, and so the earlier one starts using substances, the increased likelihood there is a problem with addiction later in life,” Stein added.

Finally, engaging with your children and encouraging them to come to you with questions is the strongest line of defense against teen substance abuse.

“Spending time with your kids and enjoying life together is probably one of the most important protective factors,” Stein said.

National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week is Jan. 22-28. For information on area events, visit NIDA’s website

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