Addiction Begins in Adolescence

Parents generally worry during their child’s teen years about the pressures their child may be facing. Risky behaviors such as drug use and alcohol consumption are often introduced during adolescence and parents worry about the decisions their child will make regarding these substances.

A new study says that not only do teens often try illegal substances for the first time during adolescence, but it may be when addiction also takes hold. The study, conducted by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), finds that ninety percent of those diagnosed with a drug addiction began using the substance during adolescence.

The researchers found that one-quarter of those who initiate use of any substance before the age of 18 are initiating what will become a severe addiction by the time they reach adulthood. However, the findings showed that for those who begin using a substance after the age of 21, only 1 in 25 will go on to develop an addiction.

CASA utilized national surveys of high school students, educators and parents which included thousands of individuals. They also included data from many focus groups that also included this population, as well as consulting the analyses of multiple national databases, interviews with medical personnel and conducting a review of approximately 2,000 previous studies.

The analysis shows that three quarters of teenagers in the United States (equating to approximately 10 million teens) have tried substances such as tobacco, alcohol or drugs, with about one-fifth meeting criteria for addiction.

The analysis showed that 46 percent of those teens report current use of the substances, with about one-third meeting criteria for addiction. Alcohol is the most-often cited addictive substance, with 72.5 percent reporting use. Cigarette use is used by 46.3 percent of those with an addiction and marijuana is used by 36.8 percent of those with an addition. Prescription drugs are used by 14.8 percent.

Approximately 65.1 percent admitted to combining substances.

CASA’s findings caused the group to designate teen drug use as the United States’ leading health epidemic. Because about half of teens currently use substances, and with most addictions beginning in adolescence, the researchers believe that there is no greater health problem for teens.

CASA stresses that initiating drug use in adolescence is a strong predictor for other health and safety issues as an individual begins adulthood. For instance, introducing certain chemical and substances into the brain during adolescence could lead to permanent damage. Use of drugs at this young age can result in poor brain function, physical conditions, as well as the consequences associated with risky sexual behaviors and other types of risk-taking.

Helping teens avoid drug and other substance use in the teen years not only helps them with immediate health risks, but also prevents future health problems.