Teen Pitfalls - Stress, Boredom, Extra Money

Top Risk Factors in Teen Substance Abuse, CASA Says

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Parents Are a Big Influence on Teens. © Getty Images

Why do some teens get involved in substance abuse while others do not. What factors or influences increase the risks that adolescents will smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, get drunk and use illegal and prescription drugs, while others go all the way through high school abstinent?

To answer these questions, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University conducts a "back-to-school" study otherwise known as "The National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse."

Since 1995, this survey has attempted to identify characteristics, situations and circumstances that increase or decrease the likelihood of teen substance abuse.

From the results of several of CASA's 17 published studies, the following risk factors for increased likelihood that teens will smoke, drink or use drugs have emerged:

Stress, Boredom and Too Much Money Are Key Factors

In one of CASA's early studies (2003), the survey found that highly stressed teens, compared to low-stressed teens are much more likely to become involved in substance abuse:

  • High stress teens are twice as likely to smoke, drink, get drunk and use illegal drugs.
  • Teens who report they are frequently bored are 50% more likely to smoke, drink, get drunk and use illegal drugs.
  • Teens with $25 or more per week in spending money are twice as likely to smoke, drink and use illegal drugs and more than twice as likely to get drunk.
  • Teens with two or three of these factors are more than three times likely to become substance abusers.
  • These factors affect more than half of the 12-to-17 year olds in the U.S.

Teens Begin Using Earlier Than Parents Think

Teens being influenced to smoke, drink and use drugs begins much earlier in their lives than parents would like to think, according to later CASA survey results.

  • Average first use of alcohol is 12 years, 2 months.
  • Average age of first smoking cigarettes is 12 years, 6 months.
  • Average first use of marijuana is 13 years, 11 months.

The survey found that between age 12 and age 17, the likelihood that a teen will smoke, drink or use illegal drugs increases seven times. During the same time, from age 12 to 17, the percentage of teens who report having friends who smoke marijuana increases 14 times.

Spirituality Is a Positive Influence

The CASA survey has repeatedly found that teens who attend religious services at least once a week are at significantly at lower risk of becoming involved in substance abuse.

The Influence of Social Networking: Digital Peer Pressure

Teens who have seen pictures on Facebook or other social networking sites of other kids getting drunk, passed out or using drugs are more likely to become involved in substance abuse themselves, compared to kids who have not seen such pictures. They are:

  • More than three times more likely to have used alcohol
  • Almost three times likelier to have used tobacco
  • More than twice as likely to think they'll try drugs in the future.

In addition, teens who spend significant time on social networking are:

  • Four times more likely to be able to obtain marijuana
  • Three times more likely to be able to get prescription drugs
  • Twice as likely to be able to get alcohol within a day or less

Teens involved in social networks are much more likely to have friends and classmates who use illegal drugs and abuse controlled prescription drugs.

Effects of High Stress on Teen Substance Abuse

Compared to teens who reported being under low stress (5 or less on a scale of 1 to 10), teens under high stress (6 or higher on a scale of 1 to 10) are significantly more likely to abuse substances:

  • Three times more likely to have used marijuana
  • Twice as likely to have used alcohol
  • Twice as likely to have used tobacco

Being Home Alone at Night

Teens who are sometimes left home alone overnight without adult supervision are more likely to be substance abusers, compared to teens who are never left home alone at night.

  • Twice as likely to have used marijuana
  • Almost twice as likely to have used alcohol
  • Nearly three times as likely to have used tobacco

Cyber Bullying Victims at Greater Risk

CASA's surveys reveals that teens that experience cyber bullying are more than twice as likely to smoke, drink and use marijuana compared with teens who are not bullied.

Teen Attitudes Display Greater Risks of Substance Abuse

In each instance, if teens taking the survey said they agreed with the statements below, they were three times more likely to use marijuana, about twice as likely to drink alcohol, and many times more likely to smoke cigarettes:

  • "If a friend of mine uses illegal drugs, it's none of my business."
  • "I should be able to do what I want with my own body."
  • "It's not a big deal to have sex with someone you don't care that much about."

Parental Disapproval Is an Important Factor

Throughout the years, the CASA survey found that strong parental disapproval of substance abuse is a factor in teens' attitude and behavior. Teens who say their parents would be "extremely upset" to find out they smoked, drank or used marijuana were must less likely to use substances themselves or to think it is okay for their peers to use them.

When children reported that their parents would not be extremely upset, however, the survey found that the parents:

  • Eight and a half times more likely to say it's okay for teens their age to use marijuana.
  • Ten times more likely to say it's okay for teens their age to get drunk.
  • Nine times more likely to say it's okay for teens their age to smoke cigarettes.

Parents Need to Be on the Same Page

The surveys find that it is important for parents to send a consistent and unified message to their teens about drugs and alcohol. Compared to teens whose parents completely agree with each other about substance abuse, teens who parents don't complete agree are:

  • 3 times more likely to use marijuana
  • 3.5 times more likely to try drugs in the future
  • Twice as likely to use alcohol

Time after time, the CASA survey has found that parental involvement in their teens lives can play a important role in whether are not they become involved in substance abuse, especially if the parents are sensitive to the stress in their children's lives, understand when and why they are bored, and limit and monitor their spending money.

Ways That Parents Can Reduce Teen Risk

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, these are five ways that parents can reduce the possibility that their children will smoke, drink, get drunk or use illegal drunks before age 18:

  • Be sensitive to the stress in teens' lives and help them cope.
  • Understand when and why teens are bored and help relieve their boredom.
  • Limit the amount of money your teens have to spend and monitor how that money is spent.
  • Know who your teen's friends are.
  • Be engaged in your children's lives

CASA suggests that parents can become more involved with their teens by helping them with their homework, attend their extra-curricular events, plan activities that you can do together, and talk to them about drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

Sources:

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. "National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse VIII: Teens and Parents." Addiction Research August 2003.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. "National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse VI: Teens and Parents." Addiction Research August 2011.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. "National Survey on American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVII: Teens." Addiction Research August 2012.

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