Looking at the latest survey results released by The Partnership at Drugfree.org, one might think the 60s have returned. The survey found that nearly 1 in 10 teens said they smoke marijuana at least 20 or more times a month. That’s up 80 percent for past month marijuana use since the last survey conducted in 2008.
The report by The Partnership at Drugfree.org and MetLife Foundation also said abuse of prescription medicine may be easing a bit among young people in grades 9 through 12, but still remains high.
That’s a lot of drug use going on with American teens.
You might remember the organization’s ads, “this is your brain on drugs” in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then the organization has changed its name from The Partnership for a Drug-Free America to The Partnership at Drugfree.org. The nonprofit group launched a new name in 2010 to position itself as more of a resource to parents and to avoid the misperception that the group is a government organization.
In the latest survey, researchers gave anonymous questionnaires to 3,322 teens in grades 9-12, that where then filled out at school from March to June 2011.
Partnership President Steve Pasierb says the mindset among some parents is that a little weed or a few pills is no big deal.
"Parents are talking about cocaine and heroin, things that scare them," said Pasierb. "Parents are not talking about prescription drugs and marijuana. They can't wink and nod. They need to be stressing the message that this behavior is unhealthy."
Use of harder drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine has stabilized in recent years, the group's survey showed. But past-month usage of marijuana grew from 19 percent in 2008 to 27 percent last year. Also alarming, says Pasierb, is the percentage of teens smoking pot 20 or more times a month. That rate went from 5 percent in 2008 to 9 percent last year, or about 1.5 million teens smoking pot that frequently.
A recent study sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the University of Michigan, showed similar results. That study also found marijuana use rising among teens the past few years, reversing a long decline in the previous decade.
"These findings are deeply disturbing as the increases we're seeing in heavy, regular marijuana use among high school students can spell real trouble for these teens later on," Pasierb said in a written statement, adding kids who start in teen years are more likely to have substance abuse problems later in life.
Other findings from the report:
- One in 10 teens report using prescription painkillers - Vicodin or OxyContin - in the past year, down from a peak of 15 percent in 2009 and 14 percent in 2010.
- Just over half of Hispanic teens report using an illicit drug, such as Ecstasy or cocaine, in the past year. That compares to 39 percent for Caucasian teens and 42 percent for African American teens.
- Past-year alcohol use and past-month drinking is holding steady from the 2008 report at 56 percent and 38 percent respectively.
The Marijuana policy Project, which advocates legalization, has its own take on the survey. They say making marijuana use legal for adults might actually help cut teen usage.
"We definitely don't think that minors should be using marijuana any more than they should be drinking or using tobacco, but arresting people for doing that never stops minors," said Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the group. "If we remove marijuana from the criminal market and have the market run by responsible business people that have an incentive to check IDs and not sell to minors, then we might see those rates drop again."
Parents are often at a loss on how to talk to their kids about drug use. Some baby boomers may feel a little hypocritical telling their own kids not to use drugs when they did the same thing at about the same age. The good news is that parents can do a lot to help their teens understand the damage that drug use can do to their lives.
Sometimes knowing what not to say and do, when you have these conversations, can keep your advise from falling on deaf ears.
Cbsnews.com offers these 14 suggestions from addiction specialist Dr. Joseph Lee, a spokesman for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and medical director the Hazelden Center for Youth and Family, an addiction treatment facility in Minneapolis.
1. Failing to set expectations.
Teens who know their parents disapprove of drug use are less likely to use - and vice versa. Dr. Lee says it's best to let your kids know how you feel about drugs before they hit their teenage years.
2. Ignoring mental health issues.
More than two-thirds of young substance abusers suffer from mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and eating disorders. As a rule, substance abuse and mental health issues come together in young people.
If your child undergoes an evaluation for drug abuse, make sure it includes a thorough mental health screening.
3. Assuming experimentation is no big deal.
Experimentation doesn't necessarily lead to addiction, and some parents figure that there's nothing especially worrisome about a child trying drugs or alcohol. In fact, even dabbling in substance abuse can cause big problems, such as car accidents, sexual assault, and serious overdoses. It's not a normal rite of passage.
4. Being dishonest about your drug use.
Parents often feel uncomfortable discussing with their children their own experiences with drugs or alcohol. There's certainly no reason to wax nostalgic about the "glory days," but Dr. Lee recommends being honest if kids ask. "I am not aware of research indicating that an informed discussion with kids about your drug use leads to them to use drugs," he says.
5. Blaming yourself or your spouse.
There's no such thing as a perfect parent, and there's no use in shouldering all the blame (or blaming your spouse) if a child has a drug or alcohol problem. Feeling guilty isn't just unpleasant, it can complicate substance abuse treatment - by dividing the family just when it's important to pull together as a team.
Don't ignore the past, Dr. Lee says, but keep your eyes on the present. If your child is involved in therapy, there will be ample time to make things right.
6. Setting a bad example.
Think teens simply don't pay much attention to their parents? Research suggests otherwise. Model the kind of behavior you want from your teen.
7. Being judgmental.
Being firm is one thing, but "laying down the law" in a moralistic way can close off lines of communication. Try not to be judgmental or to jump to conclusions. Do all you can to make your child feel comfortable about coming to you for help, if it's needed.
8. Failing to consider risk factors.
Just as obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, smoking is a risk factor for teen substance abuse. Other substance abuse risk factors include early aggressive or disruptive behaviors, depression, ADHD, and anxiety. If your child has any risk factors, get help.
9. Confusing intelligence with maturity.
Just because a child is smart doesn't mean he/she is mature enough to have good judgment about drugs and alcohol. The brain region responsible for judgment - the prefrontal cortex - doesn't fully mature until a person is in his/her mid-20s.
10. Not locking the medicine cabinet.
Prescription drug abuse is a huge problem in the U.S. The CDC says one in five teens experiments with prescription drugs at some point, and most teens obtain the drugs not from drug dealers or the Internet but from friends and family.
Be sure to keep track of all drugs in your home. If you no longer need pills, get rid of them. And pay attention to other substances around the house that have the potential for abuse, including solvents, aerosols, etc.
11. Failing to consider family history.
Like many diseases, addiction can run in families. If it runs heavily in yours, it might be a good idea to adopt a strict no-drinking policy in your home. For some families, it might be okay to let a teen have a sip of wine on a holiday occasion when others are drinking - but not all.
There are no hard and fast rules for what is acceptable for all families, Dr. Lee says. And a teen can develop a substance abuse problem even in the absence of any family history of addiction.
12. Not noticing changes in your teen.
Changes in sleep, mood, friends, activity level, academic performance, weight, personal hygiene, etc. can all signal a substance abuse problem. So pay attention. Monitor your child's welfare with particular care at times of transition - moving to a new school, onset of puberty, breakups with boyfriends or girlfriends, etc.
13. Putting off getting help.
Two million children between the ages of 12 and 17 need treatment for a substance abuse problem, according to a recent survey. But only about 150,000 get the help they need. If you think your teen may have a problem, have him/her assessed by a child psychiatrist, pediatrician, or another expert. Remember, prevention and early intervention are key.
14. Not talking about driving.
The top three causes of teen death in the U.S. are accidents, homicides, and suicides. Each of these problems is linked to substance abuse. Make sure your teen knows about the dangers of driving under the influence - and pay attention to his/her whereabouts.