Teen substance abuse is once again on the rise, according to a national study of adolescent drug and alcohol use released this week. The annual release of the Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) showed an alarming increase in adolescent substance abuse since 2008.
According to the study (PDF), teen illicit drug use and prescription drug abuse have significantly increased in the past three years. Marijuana use among adolescents increased 22 percent from 2008 to 2010, with nearly 40 percent of teens using the drug within the past year. Ecstasy use is also on the rise, increasing from 6 percent in 2008 to 10 percent in 2010. Likewise, 25 percent of teens admit they’ve taken medication not prescribed by their doctor, and one in five has used a behind-the-counter pain reliever without the direction of a doctor. This new data is especially worrisome, as it suggests that teen drug use is climbing again after a relative decline over the past decade.
Unfortunately, adolescent substance abuse is not reserved to the halls of high schools or prom after-parties. The nationally projectable study found an increase in alcohol use among young teens and even pre-adolescents. Almost two in three teens who admit to drinking alcohol said they had consumed their first full drink at age 15. Shockingly, 25 percent of the same group said they had first imbibed at 12 years old or younger.
Perhaps most disturbing about the results of this latest study is the feeling of helplessness reported by parents of adolescents. More than one in four parents responded that “there is very little parents can do to prevent their kids from trying alcohol.” Parents are certainly waging an uphill battle against a culture that extols the wild lifestyles of Jersey Shore actors and finds lucrative humor in movies like the upcoming Your Highness. Thankfully, parental involvement, family structure, and religious practice are still mediating voices of reason and can all help decrease the risk of adolescent substance abuse.
Whether teens have regular contact with their parents, especially with their fathers, can have significant impact on illicit drug and alcohol use. For instance, a child growing up in a divorced family is four times more likely to try illicit drugs by the time he or she is 14 than the same child raised in an intact, married family. Children who live with both parents and have close relationships with their fathers are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol, or use marijuana regardless of many other socioeconomic factors.
Religious practice also seems to have a positive effect on teens’ engagement in risky behavior. Adolescents who express personal religious beliefs and whose families regularly practice their faith are at lower risk for substance abuse. Fewer than one in 10 teens from an intact, religious family report ever using hard drugs, while more than one in five adolescents from non-intact, non-religious homes have abused illicit substances.
Despite significant increases in teen drug and alcohol use, parents should feel equipped to address teens’ behavior by increasing their involvement in their children’s lives. Providing children with the safety of an intact family and the foundational values of religious belief can help adolescents make wise choices and avoid destructive addictions.