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Spotlight: Antisocial Behaviors, Teens and Drug Exposure

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Fourteen-year-old Josh sees his neighbor getting high before school. He is now twice as likely to steal when he goes to the convenience store that night.

Natalie, 12, watches her brother finish off a bottle of vodka when she gets home from school. She is now six times more likely to damage her neighbor’s property when she goes out later that afternoon.

Teen Antisocial Behavior

These examples follow the very real trend revealed by a recent study. Researchers found that teens who see others drink alcohol or use drugs increases the chances that they will engage in antisocial behavior on the same day. Although studies have long revealed that children who grow up in families where these activities are present are at risk for behavioral problems later in life, this research project is especially groundbreaking because it suggests that the effects are immediate

Researchers had a group of adolescents from ages 11 to 15 respond to survey questions three times a day for one month, using their phones to provide immediate responses and real-time results. The scientists compared a teen’s behavior on days when he or she was around others using substances to that same teen’s behavior on days when they were not.

What Did Researchers Find?

The results are sobering. On the days that teens witnessed substance abuse, they were twice as likely to engage in antisocial behavior. This included stealing, damaging property, or hurting someone. Teens who had the genotype associated with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (DRD4-7R) were six times as likely to commit these acts. Researchers suspect that because carriers of this genotype have heightened impulsivity and environmental reactions, they are more susceptible. However, they were unable to find a direct correlation between the two and acknowledged that more research is needed.

How Should Parents React?

The results of this study suggest exposing adolescents to drug or alcohol use acts as a trigger for negative behavior. It also suggests that youth with ADHD are at particularly high risk. This means it is important to prevent this exposure from happening. Although parents can use filtering devices on computers and their child’s social media accounts to help block alcohol and drug-related advertising, it’s simply not possible to fully shield them from it. Because of this, it’s crucial for kids to have access to education and intervention services so they can learn about the dangers of using these substances and feel compelled to avoid them voluntarily.


Image Source: iStock

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