The recent arrest and subsequent deposition of Justin Bieber for both Xanax and marijuana highlights a growing issue amongst American teenagers. The number of teens who abuse prescription medication and the number of teens who use marijuana has grown steadily over the last few years. This is according to the latest reports from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
In fact, according to the recent survey, almost 25 percent of 12th graders admitted to having smoked cannabis in the last month in 2013. Seven percent of 8th graders and 18 percent of 10th graders admitted to the same. In just five short years that means the percentage of 10th graders who use cannabis is up four percent. The use amongst 8th graders is up one percent, and among 12th graders, the use of cannabis has increased by three percent. Especially with a number of states looking at legalization, the attitude towards marijuana use appears to be changing on a national level and it clearly does affect teenagers.
Prescription Drug Use is Up as Well
The Canadian pop star is not alone in his recreational use of a prescription drug. In fact, among adolescents, prescription medication abuse has become an alarming problem. According to the latest statistics from 2013, almost 15 percent of high school seniors admit to abusing prescription medication at some point in their life. This means that they used these drugs in a way that was other than recommended.
However, most teenagers do not use Xanax as Bieber did. The majority of teenagers report using Adderall as their ‘drug of choice’. About seven percent of the teenagers admit to having used the medication for recreational use. The second most popular choice is Vicodin, almost five percent admitted to abusing this powerful opioid medication. Other drugs that were at around five percent included tranquilizers and cough medication with codeine. Considering that the arrest of one of the most popular teen idols is in line with the current trend in using, it begs the question: why are teenagers using more than before and why are more teenagers using?
Explaining the Increased Marijuana Use
The increase in marijuana use in adolescents directly correlates to the concept that teens perceive this drug to be less dangerous than they ever have before. A recent University of Michigan study revealed that teens believe that marijuana is not as dangerous as was previously believed. This is partly influenced because of two states legalizing and a number of others considering decriminalizing marijuana.
In just five years (between 2009 and 2013), the percentage of high schools seniors who believed that cannabis was a dangerous substance dropped from almost 30 percent to barely 20 percent. This is a drastic decrease in such a short period of time. Studies also show that use of the substance is more frequent than it was before. About a decade ago, only five percent of teens admitted to using the drug every day. In 2013, that number rose to almost seven percent.
Contrary to the fact that alcohol consumption amongst teenagers is lower than it has ever been before. When compared to the middle of the 1990’s, the number of teenagers who use alcohol is almost 33 percent less. In 2013, a little more than 22 percent of high school seniors admitted to drinking.
Why this May be Problematic
One of the reasons that this is problematic is because recent studies on how marijuana affects the brain have shown that especially among teenagers, the use of the drug could have lasting consequences. In fact, researchers at Northwestern University found that brain scans of long-term users were not unlike people that were diagnosed with schizophrenia. These researchers are worried that there may be long-term, structural changes to the brain if young adults decide to use the drug while the brain is still in development.
The Issues with Prescription Medication
Part of the issue with prescription medication abuse is that these are dangerous substances. A physician is not going to recommend a medication until he or she takes a number of different factors into account. When teens (and others as well) start using each other’s medication, it can lead to unexpected catastrophic results; and may even prove to be fatal.
It is also problematic that a large number of teens use these substances recreationally. This means that they may use them in combination with other substances or mix them with alcohol. This may lead to dangerous drug combinations that increase the potency of the substances that are mixed together.
One of the problems is the perception of a medication being ‘safe’ to use recreationally because it is recommended by an actual physician and manufactured in a safe environment. While a decreasing number of teens experiment with cocaine, the number of teenagers who abuse Adderall and/or Ritalin has increased dramatically. Even when these teenagers crush up the tablets and snort them, similar to cocaine use, they do not realize just how comparable both substances are.
Education is Vital – Now More than Ever
The fact is that teenage drug abuse is becoming a serious issue. The teens experimenting with these prescription medications may have long-lasting consequences that we are unable to foresee at this time. It is important to provide these young adults with a clear overview of the dangers of these substances. Just because marijuana is now legalized in a number of different states doesn’t mean that teens should be using it.
Instead of demonizing the substance altogether, we should focus our efforts on explaining why using this substance is going to lead to negative consequences. Why these studies are showing that some of the changes it causes in the brain might be permanent. Most teenagers are unable to perceive the long-term dangers of their behavior. If we are able to let them know just how this temporary pleasure can negatively affect them for the rest of their life, we may be able to turn the tide.