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Ask an Expert: Teens and substance abuse.

Q. My son will be heading to high school next year. I want to know about the current trends in terms of drug and substance abuse among teens.

A. Since 1975, Monitoring the Future has conducted surveys nationally of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders to measure drug and alcohol use as well as other aspects of teen behavior.  The 2010 study disclosed several  findings of interest:

  • Marijuana use continues to increase. Among high school seniors, it was at its highest since the 1980s. In addition, perceived risk of using marijuana regularly decreased, suggesting that future trends may continue increasing.
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medications are the second most abused drugs by 12th-graders.  Although the nonmedical use of Vicodin decreased, the use of OxyContin remained unchanged across all three grades and has increased in 10th graders over the past five years.  Most teens acquire these drugs from friends.
  • After several years of decline, the use of Ecstasy has risen among eighth- and 10th-graders. This trend follows a recent decline in perceived risk of its use.
  • Although cigarette smoking among teens is unacceptably high, cigarette smoking continues to decrease from the high rates of the late 1990s.
  • Alcohol use has been steadily declining, along with binge drinking and the use of flavored alcoholic beverages.

Booze-soaked Gummi Bears: Rumor or reality?

Especially around Halloween time, parents are being warned to be wary of candy that may be laced with drugs or alcohol.  There have been reports of gummy bears soaked in alcohol or a pink substance called “angel candy” which makes kids drowsy after consuming it.

Since early intervention may decrease drug use in teens, it is important for parents to know the signs of possible drug use.


Symptoms of drug use

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Persistent cough
  • Pupils extremely big or extremely small
  • Loss of appetite (amphetamine, methamphetamine, cocaine)
  • Increased appetite (marijuana)
  • Sluggishness, listlessness, or constant sleeping (opiates or coming down from stimulants)
  • Hyperactivity (“uppers” such as cocaine or methamphetamine)
  • Poor school performance and increased school absenteeism
  • Withdrawal from family and extracurricular activities
  • Change in group of friends
  • Unusual odor on breath (inhalants)
  • Secretive behavior
  • Lying or stealing
  • Slow or slurred speech (downers , depressants)
  • Rapid, explosive speech (“uppers”)
  • Unsteady gait

More information

National Institute on Drug Abuse NIDA’s Preventing Drug Use Among Children and Adolescents National Institutes of Health Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence


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