Family dinners, holiday celebrations, annual road trips, and heart to heart talks at the kitchen table with a loved one are all staples in many of our lives, unfortunately, so is substance-abuse. Alarming headlines and negative stereotypes cloud our understanding about what has evolved into a serious epidemic in the western world.
Substance-abuse disorders also impact the our workforce. Recent data from the U.S. revealed that marijuana positivity has increased nearly 75% in the general workforce via oral fluid testing. Overall positivity in urine drug testing among the combined U.S. workforce in 2016 was 4.2 percent, a five percent relative increase over last year’s rate of 4.0 percent, and the highest annual positivity rate since 2004 (4.5%).
A thin line separates the casual use of alcohol and drugs from the potential fall into a substance abuse disorder (SUD). Substance abuse manifests when the recurrent use of drugs and/or alcohol causes clinically and functionally significant impairment, such as health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home.1 So, why are some people able to casually enjoy a cocktail on the weekend while firing up the grill, while others transition from occasional use to addiction? And when an individual’s life is flipped upside down because of a physical and psychological dependence on mind-altering substances, what can their loved ones do? Inside this resource guide, we examine: • What decades of research can tell us about the science behind substance-abuse and addiction • How individuals are affected at different ages • The connection between trauma and substance use disorders.
Adolescent drug use can have long-lasting effects on the developing brain and may interfere with family, peer relationships, and school performance. Prevention through education, communication, and resources like NIDA for Teens can boost awareness and understanding about how substance abuse and addiction can affect both life and work.
Aside from biological reasons, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids lists some reasons why teens may experiment with drugs and alcohol:
- Access - Teenagers see people using various substances daily. Coupled with peer pressure, drug and alcohol use can seem to be a normal part of the teenage experience.
- Popular media - A study by the Journal of Medical Internet Research showed that only 9% of the audience (primarily 17- to 19-year-olds) of a popular pro-marijuana web handle associated risky health behaviors with drugs and alcohol use. The rest of the perceptions were positive and correlated substance abuse as light-hearted and humorous.
- Escape and self-medication - The teenage years are notorious for roller coaster-like emotions, a fluctuating sense of self-worth, and, in many instances, depression. Given a chance to take something that may alleviate these negative emotions, many can’t resist.
- Boredom - To fill a void, kill time, or simply to relate to like-minded teens, alcohol and drugs may provide a quick cure for boredom and a path towards bonding with peers. Rebellion
- Rebellion - may be manifested in the use of drugs and alcohol.
- Lack of confidence - As adults, we’re familiar with the term “liquid courage.” The same concept applies to teens who are shy, lack confidence, and don’t naturally fit in. The use of drugs and alcohol can be seen as a solution to social anxiety.
- Misinformation - Friends are powerful influencers and teens can oftentimes be willing to believe a friend’s misinformation about substances like marijuana, alcohol, pills, or even LSD.
Recreational drug and alcohol use is often perceived as harmless, but addiction can take hold when young brains are at their most vulnerable and when life is at its most confusing—the teen years. The root of our addictive behavior may be traced back to a time when our lives were ruled by raw emotion and impulses thanks in large part to a developing brain. Dr. Jay Giedd at the National Institute of Mental Health studied the brains of teenagers and discovered a second “period of over-production of synapses” thought to only take place in babies.
The above study focused on the surprising late-childhood growth and maturity of the frontal cortex, supporting the common belief that adolescents take more risks because their brains undergo tremendous change during these years. However, an immature brain coupled with a primitive drive to belong and unrelenting societal pressure may create a perfect storm for teenagers to seek out drugs and alcohol. According to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), early abuse often includes tobacco, alcohol, inhalants, marijuana, and prescription drugs, such as sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medicines.