Despite the rise of health issues in our nation, teen smoking, drinking and abuse of illegal drugs tops the list of public health concerns, according to a study published by The National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA).
In the study, CASA describes the problem of adolescent smoking, alcohol use and prescription drug use as a public health issue of “epidemic” proportions. CASA reports the significance of the age in which a person begins abusing illegal substances, “The younger a person is when he or she begins using illicit drugs or misusing controlled prescription drugs, the higher the risk of drug use disorders.”
Although there has been discussion about lowering the legal drinking age from 21 to 18, the CASA report defends the significance in keeping 21 the legal age for alcohol use. According to the study: For those who started using any of these substances before age 18 [nicotine, alcohol or other drugs], 1 in 4 are addicted, compared with 1 in 25 who first started to smoke, drink or use other drugs at age 21 or later.
“Prevention is the foundation of our public health system and of my work as Surgeon General. One of the greatest challenges we face is preventing teen substance use and related risky behaviors,” said U.S Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Regina M. Benjamin, M.D.
The study places blame on the glamorization of alcohol and drug use in the media, saying it is a major factor in influencing the future of America’s youth. “The encouraging messages adolescents hear to smoke, drink and use other drugs help drive this problem and are created, in large part, by adults. Tobacco and alcohol advertisers and marketers supply teens with their wares. Many communities are dense with alcohol and tobacco outlets. Prescription drugs are advertised as a cure for every ill.”
Not only does adolescent and teenage use of marijuana and other illegal drugs pose a danger to the individual, but society as a whole pays for the substance abuse that is occurring. Although research on the actual financial costs of underage substance abuse is limited, the CASA study found that in 2007, the cost of underage drinking was an estimated $68.7 billion. This shocking number amounts to $2,280 per year for every adolescent in the United States.
Perhaps the efforts that once worked to curb adolescent substance abuse need to be revamped. As our nation becomes more connected through media and social networking it is essential that we find new tactics to connect and influence the youth society.
The CASA report provides recommendations that may be successful in gaining the attention of adolescences such as, “creative yet profitable ways to craft messages that discourage adolescent substance use, eliminating marketing efforts to adolescents that make addictive substances appear attractive, and using new technology to counteract prosubstance use media and advertising messages.”