Myths and Facts: Teen Substance Abuse and Drug Use
The week of January 22nd – January 28th is National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week (NDAFW)! NDAFW is a health observance week for teens that aims to shatter myths surrounding drug and alcohol use. According to the most recent data from the annual Monitoring the Future Survey, between 48%-50% of adolescents had used an illicit drug by the time they left high school. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health by age 15, about 33% of teens have had at least one drink, and by age 18 that figure jumps to 60%. Among adolescents, alcohol and drug use continues to be a major issue affecting the country.
This major issue can partly be attributed to misinformation and widely accepted myths. To shatter these myths, below we have detailed seven myths and facts from pridesurveys.com about teen substance abuse and drug use.
Myth #1: You can use drugs occasionally and not get addicted
The truth is, even occasional drug use can very easily lead to a dangerous addiction. As Alan Leshner, the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, notes, “every drug user starts out as an occasional user, and that initial use is a voluntary and controllable decision. But, as time passes and drug use continues, a person goes from being a voluntary to a compulsive drug user.” In fact, “a vast body of hard evidence shows that it is virtually inevitable that prolonged drug use will lead to addiction.”
Myth #2: You have to use drugs or alcohol for a long time before they can hurt you.
While most people are aware of the long-term effects of consuming drugs or alcohol, in reality, a substance has an impact on you from the moment you take it, whether by smoking, drinking, injecting, or in some other way. Drugs impact the brain in dramatic and dangerous ways, and they can cause it to send the wrong signals to the body. These signals can cause a person to stop breathing, have a heart attack or go into a coma. This can happen the first time the drug is used.
Myth #3: Alcohol is not as harmful as other drugs.
The truth is that consuming alcohol increases your risk for many deadly diseases, including diseases of the heart (stroke, high blood pressure), the liver (alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis), the pancreas (pancreatitis), and more. It also increases your risk of developing certain cancers, such as cancers of the mouth, throat, liver, and breast.
Plus, binge drinking (consuming an excessive amount of alcohol within a short period of time) has its own unique dangers. Drinking too much alcohol too quickly can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can kill you.
Myth #4: Drug addiction is a choice.
Scientists and neurologists agree that addiction is not a choice – it’s an involuntary medical condition. It’s a disease, just like measles and mumps. While the initial drug use may be voluntary, “over time, continued use of addictive drugs changes your brain—at times in dramatic, toxic ways, at others in more subtle ways, but virtually always in ways that result in compulsive and even uncontrollable drug use.”
Addiction is defined as a disease by most medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Similarly, “addiction is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental and biological factors. Genetic risk factors account for about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop an addiction.”
Myth #5: Substance addiction is a disease and so there’s nothing you can do about it.
This common myth is partly true, in that most experts agree that addiction is a brain disease, as noted above. But that doesn’t mean that addicts have to be helpless victims. “The brain changes associated with addiction can be treated and reversed through therapy, medication, exercise, and other treatments.”
The center on addiction notes that about 25-50% of people with a substance abuse addiction appear to have a severe, chronic disorder. However, “the good news is that even the most severe, chronic form of the disorder can be manageable and reversible, usually with long-term treatment and continued monitoring and support for recovery.”
Myth #6: Drinking alcohol underage is fine because it’s a legal substance and adults drink it.
While alcohol is a legal substance for adults 21 and older in the United States, consuming alcohol as a minor can have a significant, negative impact on the body. “A young person’s brain and body are still growing. Drinking alcohol can cause learning problems or lead to adult alcoholism. People who begin drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to abuse or become dependent on alcohol than those who begin drinking after age 21.”
Myth #7: Alcohol is a safer alternative for teens than “hard” drugs.
Working off of Myth #6, many people mistakenly believe that alcohol consumption is a safer alternative than other illicit substances. However, research shows that young people’s brains keep developing well into their twenties. Alcohol can alter this development, potentially affecting both the brain’s structure and its function, meaning how well it processes information. This may cause cognitive or learning problems and/or make the brain more prone to alcohol dependence.”