Public policy insight: the changing face of teen substance use | CASAColumbia

Public policy insight: the changing face of teen substance use

Public policy insight: the changing face of teen substance use

Today, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) released their annual Monitoring the Future report, which measures substance use and attitudes among the nation’s 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders. The 2013 report showed continued progress in the decline of some forms of substance use among teens, namely with alcohol, cigarettes and prescription opioids. However, according to the report, while the use of these substances has declined, teen use of marijuana, prescription stimulants and other tobacco/nicotine products has increased.

CASAColumbia’s own research shows that, though the use of certain addictive substances among teens has declined, the combined rates of risky substance use and addiction remain unacceptably high. Just because a teen stops using one addictive substance does not mean he/she has stopped using all addictive substances. Historically we have seen increases or decreases in the use of specific drugs based on access, price and perception of harm. Because of this, we must look at the issue of teen substance use comprehensively rather than looking at the use of each drug independently. All addictive substances have enormous potential for harm, particularly when used by children and teens during the critical years of brain development.

To make headway in reducing America’s most preventable and costly health problem, policymakers, health care providers and parents alike need to focus not just on individual substances like alcohol and marijuana, but also on risky substance use and addiction broadly as public health and medical problems. As we do with other diseases, we must regularly screen for risky use and addiction in all of its forms in the context of routine medical practice and provide quality interventions and treatment as needed.

Recognizing that addiction is more about what happens in the brain in response to addictive substances rather than about the particular drug that turns on that response will enable us all to better protect our teens from the debilitating health and social consequences of substance use. 

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