- A survey of 10th graders found high rates of alcohol and drug use.
- Marijuana was the most commonly tried drug in a survey of 10th grade students.
- Teens who use multiple substances, such as marijuana and alcohol, report more high-risk behaviors and physical and emotional problems.
A recent survey found high rates of regular alcohol and illicit and prescription drug use in tenth graders, reports a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Researchers used data from the NEXT Generation Health study, which surveyed 2,524 10th grade students in 80 schools and 9 U.S. school districts in the spring of 2010.
Twenty six percent of the surveyed teens reported using marijuana, making it the most common illicit drug used in the previous 12-month period. Additionally, 35 percent of the teens had used alcohol, 27 percent had engaged in binge drinking and 19 percent had smoked cigarettes.
The study found that teens using multiple substances reported more physical ailments and symptoms of depression, anxiety or hopelessness and having difficulty sleeping. In addition, these adolescents reported more high-risk behaviors.
“Two-thirds of the poly-substance users in our study abused medications and nine out of ten of those students engaged in binge drinking,” said the study’s lead author, Kevin P. Conway, Ph.D., deputy director of the division of epidemiology, services and prevention research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Conway pointed out that teens that use a variety of drugs have a high risk profile that indicates a need for mental health and substance use screening and referral. “This indication is one of the most important and actionable findings of this study,” he said.
Pamela K. Gonzalez, M.D., a pediatrician and addiction medicine specialist at the University of Minnesota agreed with the study’s findings, including that marijuana is the first drug of choice by adolescents who use multiple substances.
“I also see inappropriate use of prescription medications like painkillers almost to the same degree as marijuana use,” she said. “Most adolescents who have a pattern of polysubstance use have mental health problems, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all adolescents be screened for substance use and mental health issues during a routine visit with their doctor.”
Prevention programs may help decrease the harmful cycle of multiple substance abuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse provides information on its teen-oriented website (teens.drugabuse.gov), online information for parents and educators at (drugabuse.gov), as well as an interactive mobile screening tool for healthcare professionals (drugabuse.gov.nidamed).
“It’s also important for pediatricians and caregivers to have a good understanding of the trends of substances used in their area by teenagers when engaging them in meaningful conversations,” added Gonzalez.
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Conway, K.P. et al., 2013. Prevalence and Patterns of Polysubstance Use in a Nationally Representative
Sample of 10th Graders in the United States, Journal of Adolescent Health, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.12.006