- Your News
By IAN SKOTTE
An alarming rate of adolescents starts using drugs and alcohol when parents and teachers are away, according to a recent report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Summer months have turned into a “drug haven” for teens across the U.S., with more than 11,000 adolescents ages 12-17 trying alcohol for the first time, and 4,500 trying marijuana, nationwide.
That’s 2,000 more than any other time of the year besides December and January, according to SAMHSA.
“These months include periods when adolescents are on break from school and may have more idle time, fewer responsibilities and less adult supervision,” the report stated.
What’s significant about this report, according to Sheila Nickell, alcohol and drug interventionist for Centerstone in Columbia, whose organization specializes in curing and preventing addiction, is the age of users.
“They’re at a higher risk of becoming an addict later on in life.” she said. “The reason why is because their brains are not fully developed.”
Nickell noted a human brain does not fully develop until an adult reaches the age of 25.
In fact, teenagers are four times as likely to be involved in a car crash and three times more likely to die in one than adults, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Recent studies have shown that these statistics may have to do with teenage brain development.
A National Institutes of Health study stated the part of the brain that restrains risky behavior and thinking skills is not fully developed until the age of 25.
Nickell said anything that can alter a young person’s brain, like drug usage, which changes the brain in fundamental and long-lasting ways, has a negative effect.
How to prevent first time drug usage among teens
Focusing on prevention is “particularly important during these months,” according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health Report.
Providing youth with activities and events containing a strong anti-drug message is an option. Parents simply talking to kids about the importance of saying “no” to drugs and reinforcing messages about the risks involved with using alcohol and drugs goes a long way in prevention of first time use.
“It’s really never too early to talk to your kids about drugs,” Nickell said.
Sometimes it can be as simple as encouraging kids to take a summer job.
“It not only keeps them away from drugs, it also teaches them money management skills and being more independent,” Nickell said.
Many times, she added, kids tend to connect with their environment—especially if it’s with the “wrong” crowd.
“We’re like chameleons; we tend be like whom we associate with,” Nickell said.
With local governments cutting charitable contributions to support groups, it’s often left to parents and churches to step up and provide a positive, drug-free environment.
The home can be the first place an unsupervised child will go to get that first high.
Notice what you have in your medicine cabinets, Nickell said. According to the SAMHSA, prescription drug usage among teens is constant. The study found even when school is out, prescription drug usage remained stagnant…not especially high, but persistent.
Typically, too, drug users begin to turn into what Nickell called “vampires.”
“They’re up all night and sleep all day,” Nickell said. “Also, try to be aware of any changes that may take place in your child.”
These could be subtle changes in their mood or appearance, according to Nickell.
If you’re concerned your child may be using drugs, Centerstone has an adolescent center available in Tullahoma. Click here: http://www.centerstone.org/tennessee-facilities for more info.
Editor’s Note: NSDUH asked respondents 12 years or older who reported using various substances to indicate the year and month of first use of each substance.