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Blue Mountains
Blue Mountains

Adolescent Substance Abuse

Substance abuse affects families, not just the adolescent. 

It is important to have information as a parent about adolescent drug and alcohol use.  It is also imperative for parents to talk openly to their children about drugs and alcohol.  If you don't talk to your children about it, someone else will and it may be a person giving them the wrong information.  So, you decide.  Information is power and there are many myths out about drugs and alcohol.  The societal changes in the acceptance of the use of marijuana is having a tremendous negative impact on our young people.

It may help you, as a person, to take a look at your own substance use as well.  Remember, parenting is more than what we say, it is what we do and our attitudes and perceptions toward our children and their world. 

There is a multitude of information on drugs and alcohol, their uses and abuses.  The Centers for Disease Control and the National Institues of Health websites are great places to start.  You can also check my Links & Resources site.  I have included information below for a quick glance.  If I can be of assistance with you and your child, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Alcohol is one of the most widely used drug substances in the world. Alcohol use and binge drinking among our nation’s youth is a major public health problem:

  • Alcohol is used by more young people in the United States than tobacco or illicit drugs.1
  • Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with approximately 75,000 deaths per year.2
  • Alcohol is a factor in approximately 41% of all deaths from motor vehicle crashes.3
  • Among youth, the use of alcohol and other drugs has been linked to unintentional injuries, physical fights, academic and occupational problems, and illegal behavior.4
  • Long-term alcohol misuse is associated with liver disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurological damage as well as psychiatric problems such as depression, anxiety, and antisocial personality disorder.5
  • Drug use contributes directly and indirectly to the HIV epidemic, and alcohol and drug use contribute markedly to infant morbidity and mortality.5

As of 1988, all states prohibit the purchase of alcohol by youth under the age of 21 years. Consequently, underage drinking is defined as consuming alcohol prior to the minimum legal drinking age of 21 years. Current alcohol use among high school students remained steady from 1991 to 1999 and then decreased from 50% in 1999 to 42% in 2009. In 2009, 24% of high school students reported episodic heavy or binge drinking.6


Illicit Drug Use
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug among youth in the United States.9 Current marijuana use decreased from 27% in 1999 to 21% in 2009.6   Unfortunately, there is the possiblity for increases in adolscent marijuana use due to recent increases in accessiblity.  Current cocaine use increased from 2% in 1991 to 4% in 2001 and then decreased from 2001 (4%) to 2009 (3%).6 Lifetime inhalant use decreased from 20% in 1995 to 12% in 2003 and then remained steady from 2003 (12%) to 2009 (12%).6 Lifetime use of ecstasy among high school students decreased from 11% in 2003 to 7% in 2009.6 Lifetime use of methamphetamines was steady from 1999 (9%) to 2001 (10%) and then decreased to 4% in 2009.6 Lifetime heroin use did not change from 1999 (2%) to 2009 (2%).6 Hallucinogenic drug use decreased from 13% in 2001 to 8% in 2007 and then remained steady from 2007 (8%) to 2009 (8%).6 



Prescription and Over the Counter Drug Use 

While illicit drug use has declined among youth, rates of nonmedical use of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medication remain high.9 Prescription medications most commonly abused by youth include pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and depressants.9 In 2009, 20% of U.S. high school students had ever taken a prescription drug, such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Adderall, Ritalin, or Xanax, without a doctor's prescription.6 Teens also misuse OTC cough and cold medications, containing the cough suppressant dextromethorphan (DXM), to get high.10 Prescription and OTC medications are widely available, free or inexpensive, and falsely believed to be safer than illicit drugs. Misuse of prescription and OTC medications can cause serious health effects, addiction, and death.10,11


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, 2007.
  2. CDC. Alcohol-attributable deaths and years of potential life lost—United States, 2001. Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report 2004;53(37):866–870.
  3. U.S. Department of Transportation. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) Web-based Encyclopedia.
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The relationship between mental health and substance abuse among Adolescents. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1999.
  5. Naimi TS, Brewer RD, Mokdad A, Denny C, Serdula MK, Marks JS. Binge drinking among US adults. JAMA 2003;289:70-75.
  6.  CDC. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2009. [pdf 3.5M] MMWR 2010;59(SS-5):1–142. 
  7. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. States with Zero Tolerance Laws for Drivers Under Age 21. Washington D.C.: U. S. Department of Transportation, 2002.
  8. J.H. Hedlund, R.G. Ulmer, D.F. Preusser. Determine Why There Are Fewer Young Alcohol-Impaired Drivers. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Transportation, 2001 [Report Number DOT HS 809 348].
  9. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings. (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-32, DHHS Publication No. SMA 07-4293).
  10. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Misuse of Over-the-Counter Cough and Cold Medications among Persons Aged 12 to 25. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2008.
  11. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Research Report Series: Prescription Drugs: Abuse and Addiction. [pdf 589K] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. NIH Publication No. 01-4881, Printed 2001. Revised August 2005.


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