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Certain Teens More Likely to Use Drugs, Alcohol

< Nov. 09, 2011 > -- Although it’s not news that teens are drinking and using drugs, a more precise picture of who is engaging in these behaviors has been highlighted by new research.

A Duke University study found that American Indian teens were most likely to drink or use drugs – or both. Nearly half of teens in this ethnic group use drugs or alcohol, and 15 percent of teens addicted to drugs or alcohol are American Indian.

According to the study, other ethnic groups with a high percentage of drug or alcohol use are teens of mixed race (18 percent) and white teens (16 percent).

Numbers are high

Overall, more than a third of U.S. teens drink or use drugs, and 15 percent say they do both.

The researchers used data on more than 72,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 who took part in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2005-2008.

The most widely used drug was marijuana, with 13 percent of teens using it, followed by narcotic painkillers, at 7 percent.

Growing concern

The study results are troubling, says addiction expert J.C. Garbutt, M.D., at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, because of a “growing concern over the misuse of prescription opioids, with opioids now representing the second most commonly used substance among adolescents after marijuana."

Opioids are of particular concern because they can be lethal, and because many young people are unaware of their danger, Dr. Garbutt says. Opioid-related overdose deaths are on the increase among young people.

Opioids are drugs such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet).

Better programs needed

The study, which was published this month in the Archives of General Psychiatry, confirms the need for heightened awareness of the dangers of drugs and alcohol, particularly among certain ethnic groups, experts say.

"The younger people are when they begin to use/abuse substances, the more likely they are to develop lifelong problems," says Bruce Goldman, at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. "So we want to focus on delaying the onset of use of substances as long as possible, including alcohol.”

Any prevention programs developed should be culturally sensitive, Dr. Garbutt adds.

"The diversity of substance use patterns across ethnic groups shows that cultural factors are important in promoting and protecting from using substances,” he says. “Prevention and treatment programs that make use of culturally related factors may well prove more effective than a 'one-size-fits-all' approach."

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this website.

Building Close Ties

The best way to keep your child from drinking is to develop a strong, trusting relationship with him or her, says the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Studies have found that children are less likely to begin drinking if they feel close to their parents. With a strong parental tie, they are less likely to go along with peer pressure to drink.

Here are several suggestions from the NIAAA on building a strong relationship:

  • Encourage your teen to talk openly with you. Foster good communication.

  • Show that you care. It's important that teens know their parents still care about them. Make time to share activities one-on-one with your child.

  • Establish firm, realistic rules for acceptable behavior and follow through with them. Teens need to know there are consequences for their actions.

  • Be accepting. Support your teen's efforts, as well as accomplishments. Avoid teasing that's hurtful.

  • Don't forget that your teen is growing up. You need to stay involved in your teen's life, but still respect his or her growing independence and need for privacy.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

Archives of General Psychiatry - Racial/ethnic variations in substance-related disorders among adolescents in the United States

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Make a Difference

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Drugs: Shatter the Myths