CASA ADOLESCENT COMMISSION REPORT:
AMERICA'S CHILDREN ARE SMOKING, DRINKING, AND USING DRUGS AT THE YOUNGEST AGES EVER - ALCOHOL REMAINS, BY FAR, THE DRUG TEENS MOST WIDELY ABUSE
NEW CASA ANALYSIS SUPPORTS GATEWAY DRUG THEORY
1997 CASA TEEN SURVEY SHOWS NUMBER OF 12-YEAR-OLDS KNOWING A FRIEND OR CLASSMATE WHO USES ACID, COCAINE OR HEROIN HAS MORE THAN DOUBLED SINCE 1996
New York, NY, August 13, 1997 — The Commission on Substance Abuse Among America's Adolescents, established two years ago by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), released its report, Substance Abuse and The American Adolescent, today and revealed that the age that children are beginning to smoke cigarettes daily, drink alcohol, and use marijuana and other illegal drugs, including cocaine and hallucinogens like LSD, is the youngest ever.
In releasing the report, the Commission Chairman, Rev. Edward A. (Monk) Malloy, president of University of Notre Dame, and Joseph A. Califano, Jr., former HEW Secretary and CASA President, noted the grave threat this poses to our children during their most critical formative years. They underscored the Commission's finding that parents and families are key to winning the struggle against substance abuse and its recommendation that the nation commit at least $1 billion a year to research on addiction, and greatly step up biomedical and social research on adolescence. In its report, the Commission gave a frightening signal of illegal drug use among America's younger teenagers by releasing a finding from CASA's third annual national survey of teens and their parents (to be released in its entirety on September 8). The survey of 1115 teens (ages 12-17) conducted in June and July (margin of error is +/- 3.1%) by The Luntz Research Companies found that the percentage of 12-year-olds who know a friend or classmate who has used illegal drugs like acid, cocaine or heroin jumped by 122% from 1996 to 1997. In 1997, 23.5% of 12-year-olds knew of a friend or classmate who used such hard drugs, while in 1996, only 10.6% knew a friend or classmate who used them. For all teens ages 12 to 17, there was an increase of 44%, from 39% in 1996 to 56% in 1997.
The Commission report stressed that alcohol remains the drug of choice among teenagers, the one they use and abuse most frequently, and the drug most associated with risky behaviors such as drunk driving, teen pregnancy, suicide and violence. The percentages of teens who have tried alcohol have remained steadily high since 1990 and the percentage of 8th graders who are binge drinking is increasing.
"Never before have American adolescents been asked to grow up amid such a combustible and dangerous mix of substance abuse conditions--use and abuse by their peers, experimentation and abuse at younger ages, the widespread availability of all kinds of drugs to children and teens, the cultural glamorization of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, drug-infested public and private schools. Most disturbing is the fact that children are being exposed to these substances at younger and younger ages and are therefore more vulnerable to their tragic effects," said Father Malloy. "The younger the child using these substances, the more likely his future life course will be seriously damaged by them."
A distinguished panel of 14 Americans, the Commission was established two years ago to look at the crisis in substance abuse among America's adolescents. Commission members include: Sen. Jeff Bingaman, (D-NM), Harvey Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D., former dean, Harvard School of Public Health, now Provost, Harvard University, Howard Fuller, Ph.D., Director, Institute for the Transformation of Learning, Marquette University, George F. Garcia, Ed.D., Superintendent, Tucson Unified Schools, Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R-CT), Thomas G. Labreque, President, Chase Manhattan Bank, Arthur Levine, Ph.D., President, Columbia Teachers College, Frank Macchairola, Ph.D., former Chancellor, New York City Schools, now President, St. Vincent College, Joseph V. Paterno, Head Football Coach, Penn State University, Herbert Pardes, M.D., Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, Pamela Ann Rymer, U.S. Circuit Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Pasadena, California, Diana Chapman Walsh, Ph.D., President, Wellesley College, and Kevin White, Dean of Students, Gonzaga College High School.
The Commission found that the age of initiation of substance use by American children has never been lower:
The peak time for initiation of smoking is in sixth and seventh grades (24%), when children are usually ages 11 and 12. Many children start smoking at younger ages. In 1995 17% of 8th graders reported smoking by fifth grade. Between 1992 and 1996, the proportion of 8th graders who reported smoking during the past 30 days jumped by more than a third, from 15.5% to 21%.
Between 1991 and 1996, binge drinking (having five or more drinks at one sitting) among 8th graders rose from 12.9% to 15.6%. In 1996, more than 55% of 8th graders had tried alcohol; more than 75% found it easy to get and nearly 27% admitted being drunk.
Nearly 1 million 8th graders admit getting drunk; almost 2 million 12th graders have used alcohol in the past 30 days and 1.2 million are binge drinkers.
From 1992 to 1996, the proportion of 8th graders who said they had used marijuana during or before 7th grade rose from 7.7% to 12.7%. The average age of first marijuana use has steadily declined from 24.2 in 1963 to 16.3 in 1994. Last year, 47% of 14-year-olds said they could buy marijuana within a day.
From 1991 to 1996, the percentage of 8th graders who tried crack, powder cocaine or heroin, though small, has been rising. Use of heroin by teens doubled from 1991 to 1996. Heroin appears to be the only illegal substance used by more 8th graders than 10th or 12th graders in 1996.
From 1995 to 1996, the percentage of 9- to 12-year- olds trying marijuana doubled, from 2% to 4%, and from 1993 to 1996, those trying cocaine increased from 2% to 3%. More 9- to 12-year-olds were offered drugs in 1996 than in 1993, and in 1996 these children are less likely to believe that "using drugs is dangerous" and to say they "don't want to hang around people who use drugs."
The Commission report found that use of alcohol and drugs in early and mid-adolescence interferes with physical, intellectual and emotional development and noted that even experimental use increases the chances of accidents, illness and death. In 1994, CASA published a report which concluded that the younger and more frequently a teen uses cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, the greater is the likelihood that teen will subsequently use other illicit drugs like cocaine, heroin and acid. In the 1994 report, CASA was unable to isolate teen use of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana from other problem behaviors.
In its work for the Commission on Substance Abuse Among America's Adolescents, CASA has, for the first time, been able to analyze the statistical relationship between the use of gateway substances (cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana)--in and of themselves-- and the use of other illicit drugs, like cocaine, heroin and acid. Through its Substance Abuse Data Analysis Center (SADAC_), CASA analyzed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's data from the 1995 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of 10,900 9th to 12th graders. The new CASA analysis, which controlled for such other problem behaviors as fighting, carrying a weapon, attempting suicide, having multiple sexual partners or driving drunk, uncovered stunning statistical correlations:
Among 12- to 17-year-olds with no other problem behaviors, those who drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes at least once in the past month are 30 times likelier to smoke marijuana than those who didn't. These correlations are more pronounced for girls than boys: for girls, 36 times likelier; for boys, 27 times likelier.
Among 12- to 17-year-olds with no other problem behaviors, those who used these three gateway drugs (cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana) in the past month are almost 17 times likelier to use another drug like cocaine, heroin or acid. These correlations are stronger for boys than girls: for boys, 29 times likelier; for girls, 11 times likelier.
The Commission found that recent neuroscientific studies support these statistical relationships. These studies suggest a biomedical link between use of alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, cocaine and heroin because all these substances produce the same kinds of changes in brain chemistry, affecting dopamine levels through common pathways to the brain. There is also new evidence that marijuana, like alcohol, cocaine and heroin, is physically addictive, and that the stress and anxiety brought on by marijuana withdrawal might nudge a user toward other drugs including alcohol, cocaine and heroin.
"Adolescents who play with the fire of nicotine, alcohol and marijuana increase their risk of getting burned by the flames of acid, cocaine and heroin," said Califano.
In view of these findings, the Commission called for an investment of at least $1 billion a year in research on addiction and greatly stepped up investments in biomedical and social research on adolescence. "The declining age at which children are smoking, drinking and using drugs makes these research investments a matter of utmost urgency," said Father Malloy.
The Commission recommends additional actions to help curb the widespread availability of nicotine, alcohol and drugs to teens. It's report calls for an increase of $2.00 a pack in the cigarette tax and a substantial increase in the tax on beer, the overwhelming alcohol choice of teens who drink. A $2.00 a pack tax on cigarettes is estimated to reduce teen smoking by 70 percent. Reducing smoking could have a salutary effect on reducing marijuana use. Increases in beer taxes have been demonstrated to reduce the level and frequency with which teens drink beer and to reduce fatal traffic accidents among young drivers.
The Commission deplored the widespread availability of these substances to America's children and urged the government to increase activities designed to reduce availability. But it noted that even with stepped up actions by the government, such substances are likely to be available to any teen who wants to get them. Thus the Commission devoted most of its recommendations to actions those who have the greatest influence on adolescents--parents, teachers, peers, clergy, doctors, the entertainment, fashion and advertising industries--can take to help teens develop the skill and will to say no.
"How our teens deal with substance use and abuse will be determined in the first instance in their homes, schools, and communities, among their peers and in their extracurricular and religious activities and leisure pursuits. The responsibility parents, teachers and others who influence what teens do and how they act cannot be overstated," said Father Malloy.
The Commission's work was funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York, Primerica Financial Services and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report is dedicated to David A. Hamburg, M.D., President, Carnegie Corporation of New York from 1983 to 1997, for his commitment to improving the lives of adolescents.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University is the only national organization that brings together under one roof all the professional disciplines needed to study and combat all types of substance abuse as they affect all aspects of society. CASA's missions are to: inform Americans of the economic and social costs of substance abuse and its impact on their lives; assess what works in prevention, treatment and law enforcement; encourage every individual and institution to take responsibility to combat substance abuse and addiction; provide those on the front lines with the tools they need to succeed, and remove the stigma of substance abuse and replace shame and despair with hope.