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Posts Tagged ‘high-school’

Monitoring the Future by NIDA: Teen alcohol and drug use data from a national survey

December 13th, 2010

Teen drug useOne of the perks of being an alcohol, drug use, and addiction researcher, as well as of writing for a website like this and Psychology Today, is that sometimes we get to talk to people that most can’t reach or to receive information that others might not have access to. NIDA‘s Monitoring the Future, a national survey of about 50,000 teens between 8th and 12th grades is a huge annual undertaking the results of which will be released tomorrow for general consumption.

But we got a little sneak peek before everyone else.

If you follow this sort of stuff, you know that teen alcohol and drug use is always shifting as new drugs become more popular and others lose favor with that group of Americans that can’t make up their minds. This year seems to give us more of the same.

Monitoring the future: Early alcohol and drug use results

  1. Daily marijuana use, after being on the decline for a short while is apparently rising once again among teens, following last year’s continuing trend of a reduction in teens’ perceptions of marijuana harmfulness – We’ve written on A3 about some of the specific issues relevant to marijuana use including writing about Marijuana’s addictive potential and its medical benefit. There’s no doubt that the national marijuana debate will continue but the idea of 8th graders smoking weed doesn’t seem to be part of anyone’s plan.
  2. Among some groups of teens drug use is proving more popular than smoking cigarettes – I guess this could be taken as evidence of the effectiveness of anti-smoking campaigns, though until we see the full numbers I’m not going to comment any further on that.
  3. While Vicodin use among high-school seniors (12th graders) is apparently down, non-medical use of prescription medications is still generally high among teens, continuing a recent upward trend – Abuse of prescription stimulants has been on the rise for a number of years as the number of prescriptions for ADHD goes up, increasing access. It is interesting to see Vicodin use go down though the data I’ve received says nothing about abuse of other prescription opiate medications such as oxycontin, so I’m not sure if the trend has to do with a general decrease in prescription opiate abuse among teens.
  4. Heroin injection rates up among high-school seniors (12th graders) – I think everyone will agree that this is a troubling trend no matter what your stance on drug use policy. The associated harms that go along with injecting drugs should be enough for us to worry about this, but again, I’ll reserve full judgment until I actually see the relevant numbers. I’m also wondering if this is a regional phenomenon or a more general trend throughout the United States.
  5. Binge drinking of alcohol is down – As we’ve written before, the vast majority of problems associated with the over consumption of alcohol (binge drinking) among high-school students has to do with the trouble they get themselves in while drunk (pregnancies, DUI accidents, and the likes), so this is an encouraging trend though hopefully it isn’t simply accounting for the above mentioned increases in marijuana and heroin use.

Some general thoughts on NIDA’s annual Monitoring the Future results

I am generally a fan of broad survey information because it gets at trends that we simply can’t predict any other way and gives us a look at the overall population rather than having to make an educated guess from a very small sample in a lab. NIDA‘s annual MTF survey is no different although until I get to see all of the final numbers (at which point there will probably be a follow-up to this article) it’s hard to make any solid conclusions. Nevertheless, I am happy to see binge drinking rates among teens going down and if it wasn’t for that pesky increase in heroin injection rates I would say that overall the survey makes it look like things are on the right tracks.

I’ve written about it before and will certainly repeat it again – I personally think that alcohol and drug use isn’t the problem we should be focusing on exclusively since it’s chronic alcohol and drug abuse and addiction that produce the most serious health and criminal problems. Unfortunately, drug use is what we get to ask about because people don’t admit to addiction and harmful abuse because of the inherent stigma. Therefore, I think that it’s important for us to continue to monitor alcohol and drug use while observing for changes in reported abuse and addiction patterns. Hopefully by combining these efforts we can get a better idea of what drugs are causing increased harm and which are falling by the wayside or producing improved outcomes in terms of resisting the development of abuse problems.

Posted in:  Education, Opinions
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Weeding out your significant other? The effect of marijuana on relationships

March 12th, 2010

contributing co-author: Gacia Tachejian

Michael Phelps smoking weed

Being young involves quite a bit of exciting change. There’s the end of high-school, the start of college and some measure of independence, and a whole slew of new experiences.

A recent study conducted by Judith Brooks at NYU School of Medicine has revealed that one of those experiences, smoking marijuana (weed) may be associated with more relationship conflict later in life. What’s amazing about this study is that the drug use here occurred earlier in life for most of the 534 participants, while the relationship trouble was assessed around their mid- to late-twenties.

Could other factors explain this finding?!

Now you may be thinking to yourself that there are a whole lot of other aspects of a person’s life that can affect their relationship quality and their probability of smoking weed in adolescence. You’d be right, but here’s what the researchers in this study ruled out as possible confounds (the scientific name for variables that obscure findings):

  • Relationship with parents
  • Aggressive tendencies
  • adjustment difficulty
  • gender
  • education

Even after controlling for all of these things, smoking marijuana as a teen still predicted having less harmonious relationships later on in life.


All humor aside, this research is not saying that if you smoke weed you will definitely have a lower quality relationship later. What it does point out is that, on average, given a person with similar social skills, aggressive personality, and education, the one who smoked marijuana around their mid-teens is likely to have a less satisfying relationship.

UPDATE: Before you leave another angry comment about how wrong this article is to suggest that marijuana can cause any problems ever, please read my article on the difference between causality and association; this article is talking about an association, not causality.


Brook, J. S., Pahl, K., and Cohen, P. (2008). Associations between marijuana use during emerging adulthood and aspects of significant other relationship in young adulthood. Journal of Child and Family Studies, Vol 17, pg. 1-12.

Posted in:  Education, Marijuana, Opinions
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Maybe its not all about friends: Parents, race, alcohol, and drug abuse

January 31st, 2010

contributing author: Gacia Tachejian

Have you ever asked yourself where it is that kids learn about drug use? Parents have long been known to protect their young ones from “bad” influences from outside, but a recent study at Yale shows that a major source influence still exists within the home.

Interestingly, the researchers, headed by Dr. William R. Corbin, found that family drinking patterns affected kids of different ethnicities differently. The researchers collected web questionnaires from over 2000 young adults to assess the influence of family drinking, social-group drinking, and thoughts about drinking on the actual behavior of entering freshmen.

Friend Vs family – Racial differences

Keg PartyAs usual, peer influence was found to be the strongest predictor of the participants’ actual drinking (in terms of average drinks per day, and frequency of drinking), accounting for almost half of the overall drinking behavior. However, the peer influence was much stronger for White participants than for Latino ones. On the other hand, family drinking habits were twice as important in affecting Latino kids’ drinking as White kids’ behavior.

The difference in the source of the influence helps explain the gender gap in drinking that exists among Latinos. While White men and women seem to drink about equally, among Latinos, drinking is much more common in men than in women. Young Latina women probably learn early on that drinking is much more acceptable among men and that they are expected to drink less. This is not to undermine the importance of social-group drinking among the Latino participants here, which still accounted for the lion’s share of the alcohol consumption, even in this group.

How does this help us?

The important issue here is in determining which interventions might be most effective in reducing drinking. Obviously, family-based interventions would be less likely to help among the White kids in this sample, though they most likely would reduce drinking among Latino kids.

Overall, the results seem to suggest that one of the major sources of influence on drinking behavior, and most likely drug-using behavior, is still found within the home. This is especially true when considering the larger picture, given that even a child’s peers are influenced by their own parents…

Posted in:  Alcohol, Drugs, Education
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Social anxiety and drugs: A lesson about addiction from monkeys.

January 6th, 2010

If you ever doubted the idea that monkeys are über similar to humans, read this:

A number of researchers at Wake Forest University school of Monkeys do love their bananas!Medicine looked at the social organization in 4 groups of monkeys. They then took either a dominant or subordinate monkey and put it in a cage next to a group of unfamiliar monkeys. The monkeys couldn’t hurt each other, but they could yell and scream, which they did, creating an emotionally stressful situation for the lone monkey.

After this stressful event, the researchers gave the monkey a chance to relax, human style: They were brought back to their normal housing and allowed to pull either on a lever that gave them food, or a lever that gave them a dose of cocaine. Want to guess what happened?

The subordinate monkeys were giving themselves a lot more cocaine than they had been before the stressful event, while the dominant monkeys were giving themselves less.

Brain scans during the event itself showed that the dominant monkeys showed increased activation in the brain’s pleasure regions but the subordinate monkeys showed less activation in stress and anxiety management areas. Sounds like a typical high-school bullying scene, the dominant monkeys were actually enjoying the fight! It was the socially inferior monkeys that were becoming stressed out.

What this teaches about addiction

The study supports the idea that stress can increase the tendency to do drugs, especially in those that are less able to protect against it.

The researchers caution that in humans, there are many more stressors than social rank. That’s definitely true, but try telling that to a high-school student…

Posted in:  Drugs, Education
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Drug use isn’t the problem – Addiction and the question of legalization or decriminalization

December 1st, 2009

I don’t keep it a secret that I used to have a very serious drug problem. If you haven’t read it by now, my drug use started early on along with a whole bunch of high-school friends. They smoked weed, I wanted to fit in, and the rest is history.

But guess what? Most of them turned out fine.

Drug use versus addiction

Only about 3 of us ended up screwing up a major part of our lives because of our drug use. One friend died 8 years later from AIDS after finding out way too late about an HIV infection he got from shooting up heroin. Another dropped out of college and never made it back. I developed a massive habit that only grew bigger when I shifted from simply using drugs to selling them. Then I got arrested, served a year in jail and went to rehab. That sucked.

The thing is that I don’t think drugs were the source of our problem.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to get my own genetic code sequenced some time in the near future in order to certify this, but I think we all had way too much of the impulsive, rush-seeking in us to allow the rules of society to keep us down. If it wasn’t for the drugs, something else would have probably gotten us sooner or later. I know that, to date, my own love for speed (as in miles per hour) and motorcycles already got me in 3 pretty serious accidents.

What I know now is that once you start using drugs on a regular basis the issue of how you got there no longer matters. Your brain controls your behavior and when drugs control your brain, you’re out of luck without help.

Is the answer legalization or decriminalization?

I think legalization is a mistake. Making a drug legal gives the impression that the state sanctions its use. Heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, ecstasy, and yes, even marijuana cause problems for people. I think that sending any other message is dangerous.

It’s not a coincidence that most people with substance abuse problems in this country (about 15 million) are pure alcoholics. Want a guess at the second biggest group? The marijuana dependent group is about 5 million strong. The rest of the drugs pick up only a few millions in total. Any move towards the legalization of any new drugs will most likely increase their use and therefore the number of addicts.

Still, decriminalization could be the answer. I’ve been meaning to write a post about Portugal’s decriminalized system for a while and haven’t gotten around to it. The bottom line? People found with illegal drugs are given a ticket and sent before a committee. The more visits one has in front of the committee the more forceful the push towards treatment. Still, unless a drug user commits another crime aside from the  possession of drugs they aren’t sent to jail.

As it stand right now, 30%-40% of our prisoners are in for simple drug offenses. That means not only billions in wasted incarceration costs every year, but also billions and billions more useless dollars thrown away at future sentences, court costs, and more (health care, probation and on and on). As it stands now recidivism rates, especially within the addict population are at 70% or higher! Unless these people get treatment, they will go back to jail! It’s that simple. Really.

So what should we do?

Many people aren’t going to like my view point. Those of us in the addiction field are supposed to scream as loudly as possible that drug are bad and that their eradication should be a major goal of our system. I disagree. Sue me.

I think we need to put the money we’re putting into jailing drug addicts into treatment. Even if it saves no money in the present (it will) we’ll be seeing huge savings over time as less of these people go to jail, more of them earn wages and pay taxes, and less of them make wasteful use of other resources like emergency rooms and social services.

And guess what? It will make our society better. We’ll start taking care of our citizens instead of locking them up. We’ll be showing Americans that we believe they can overcome rather than telling them we’d rather see them rot in jail than help them. We’ll be cutting down the number of single parent households and along with them god only knows how many more seemingly endless problems.

That’s my story, an I’m sticking to it.

Posted in:  Education
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Small town heroin addicts – When drug use and overdose hit smalltown USA

November 7th, 2009

We’ve already talked (see here) about the fact that well-off teens are in no way protected from the damages of drug abuse. We’ve even published a story by a reader who became addicted to heroin after another friend introduced her to snorting oxycontin pills. This recent article, published in the Washington Post, tells the story of a small Virginia town recently hit with their own small heroin epidemic.

cooking heroinWhen all was said and done, the residents of Centreville, VA would be left with 4 deaths and 16 convictions, a sad memory of the quiet town they thought they were living in.

This story is nothing if not a sad reminder that addiction doesn’t discriminate based on any factors we’re familiar with – race, money, age, or political leaning…

Click HERE for a link for some information on what to do in case someone you know is going through a heroin overdose

Posted in:  Addiction Stories, Drugs, Drugs, Education, For addicts, For others, Opiates, Tips
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