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SALT LAKE CITY — It is difficult to put the words “children” and “drug addiction” in the same sentence, but if we want to protect our kids from drug and alcohol abuse we need to educate them. Teens, and even younger kids, should know why they need to avoid substances and make smart choices.
Absorb these seven eye-opening facts about underage substance abuse — and make sure you share them with your kids as well.
1. Teenage drug use leads to addiction
According to Everyday Health, nine out 10 adult addicts begin using before age 18. Additionally, 25 percent of Americans who started using any addictive substance before age 18 are still addicted.
At least part of the reason why teen substance users are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol as adults has to do with the developing brain. The Everyday Health article also says if substance abuse happens when the brain is more fully developed in your mid-20s, you are less likely to become addicted.
2. Drug use starts before high school
Today’s youth have their first experiences with drugs and alcohol not in high school or college, but in junior high.
According to a report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, most teens first try cigarettes, alcohol and drugs when they are 13 years old.
3. Underage drug use could lower your IQ
In addition to increasing your likelihood of becoming an addict as an adult, drug use during teen years may cause serious damage to the developing brain. This might apply even to less toxic substances like marijuana.
According to NPR article from 2014, some studies show that regular marijuana use (once a week or more) may cause structural changes to the teen brain — specifically, in the regions having to do with memory and problem solving. Alarmingly, according to NPR, these effects may result in a lower IQ as an adult.
4. Prescription pills are the new gateway drug
Prescription drug abuse is a nationwide problem, and more kids are unknowingly using them as a “gateway” — their first foray into drug use. The above-mentioned CASA research found that 15 percent of high school seniors have misused prescription drugs like OxyContin and Percocet. What’s more, 90 percent of those kids who misuse prescription drugs go on to use other substances.
5. Inhalants (huffing) cause permanent brain damage
Inhalants are among the few drugs used more by younger adolescents than older ones, according to NIDA for Teens. Young adolescents should know that huffing household products like paint thinner or “whippets” can be deadly as well as cause brain damage.
In particular, long-term use of inhalants damages nerve fibers in the brain. Damage to these nerves, according to NIDA, can cause permanent difficulty walking and talking, similar to the effects of multiple sclerosis.
6. Using illegal substances hurts you academically
The CASA report found that teen substance users (including users of alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana) are twice as likely as non-users to have poor grades.
Even if you make it into a good college, drug and alcohol abuse can cause academic problems— some 28 percent of college dropouts abuse alcohol.
7. Underage drinking puts you in dangerous situations
Alcohol is still among the most commonly abused drugs among teenagers. One of the most dangerous effects of alcohol on young people is that it causes them to make poor choices that could put their lives in danger. These choices include getting behind the wheel or engaging in risky sexual encounters when drunk.
One in 10 high school students interviewed for the CASA report said they drove after drinking alcohol in the past month (remember that over 50 percent of traffic accidents involve alcohol or drugs). Also, one in five sexually active high school students said they used drugs or alcohol before their last sexual experience.
Please share this information about underage substance abuse and drug addiction with any teens and older children you know — including your own kids. Spreading awareness helps prevent kids from making bad choices that could ruin their lives.
If you have a female child and she already struggles with drug addiction, learn about the different types of drug addiction treatments for young women.
Kitt Wakeley is a partner at Vizown, a women's treatment center in Oklahoma. He is extremely passionate and determined to help women overcome their addictions and live a clean, wholesome, happy life.