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Teenagers, Drug Abuse, Marijuana

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

According to a NIDA survey, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, teenage us of cigarettes, most illicit drugs and alcohol were in decline during 2012. Even “bath salts,” a stimulant category of drugs, was used by only 1.3% of High School seniors nationally. However, of great concern to the addiction and mental health community is that marijuana use is up. According to NIDA, 41.7% of 8th graders reported occasionally using marijuana. Of these most said they do not believe it’s a harmful drug. Among sophomores and seniors 26.8% viewed occasional use of marijuana as risky. What is worrisome about these numbers is that accumulating research is showing how cannabis use can cause serious harm. What are some of the findings?

One large study showed that regular cannabis use that begins during the teen years continues into adulthood and is associated with decreased IQ resulting in the loss of 8 IQ points by age 38. This is not surprising considering the fact that the adolescent brain is continuing to grow and develop. In addition, studies show that regular use and abuse in marijuana is associated with mental illness. While no causal effect has been found, there is a strong correlation between chronic use and the first onset of mental illess, particularly schizophrenia.

The fact that abuse of most illicit drugs among adolescents is down does not mean that the problem is solved. For instance, 7.5% of twelfth graders abuse Vicodin and Oxycontin, both highly addictive and dangerous when abused for non medical reasons. High School seniors also reported the use of non prescription amphetamines and 7.6% abused Adderal and Ritalin, the ADHD stimulant drugs.

There is no question that adolescence can be a very difficult time for many kids. In addition to the pressures to use drugs from other youngsters both in their neighborhoods and in school, all kinds of home problems contribute to their drug abuse. Chronic parental conflict, domestic violence, parental drug abuse, the lack of proper supervision of kids at home because both parents are working and the pressures from a bad economy that increases anxiety and depression for parents, are all factors that lead to teen drug abuse.

Despite all of these pressures, parents must look for the signs and symptoms that their kids may be abusing drugs. Changes in appearance and behavior far from the norm for the children, withdrawing from family interaction, chronic behavior problems at school that never existed before and excitability, such as being quick to anger, are all symptoms. In reality, any cluster of behaviors that are markedly different for that child might indicate a problem. That problem can also be in the form of depression or both.

It is well known that parents must keep their medicine cabinets locked. Medical Doctors do prescribe pain medications for post surgical recovery at home and for other painful procedures. Too many people are in the habit of keeping those bottles of pain killers (and other medications) long after they are no longer needed. It becomes too easy for children to gain access to those drugs and either use them, sell them at school or do both.

To come back to the main theme of this blog, it is time for people to recognize, and help their kids recognize, that marijuana is not harmless, especially for youngsters whose brains and nervous systems are continuing to develop.

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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