For the past few years, conversations about the opioid epidemic that our nation is facing have been heard everywhere.
Though the discussions surrounding the rise of opioid misuse and the increasing number of fatalities might be new to many people, the nation’s struggle to combat drug and alcohol misuse is definitely not.
I clearly remember the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officers who would come to my school when I was a teenager to teach us how to resist peer pressure and live rewarding, drug-free lives. Still, despite educational efforts, there are so many misleading facts that are believed about drug and alcohol use by our youth today.
Research indicates that teens who begin misusing drugs before the age of 18 are likely to become addicted. This year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) observed National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week (NDAFW) in January. They sparked events in communities across the nation to educate teens and cancel myths about drugs.
NDAFW is a means to shatter the myths learned about drug and alcohol use so that teens can make choices about their health based on facts. These myths are learned from all forms of music, social media, television, movies, and friends. Yet, most teens are introduced to drugs and alcohol by these same outlets, and those who begin using drugs and alcohol often do so as a way of escape from their day-to-day lives or to fit in with their peers.
A study of popular music found that about one in three songs reference drug, alcohol or tobacco use, and three in four rap songs mention drug, alcohol or tobacco use. Additionally, of the top 100 movies over a nine-year period, more than 70 percent showed characters smoking, and one-third showed people getting drunk.
In the spirit of NDAFW, below are some facts we can use to help our teens and young adults make informed decisions about drugs and alcohol.
- Drunken driving kills approximately 4,000 teens each year.
- Many teens are unaware that they can be cited and arrested for underage drinking.
- Brain development is weakened for teens who drink alcohol.
- Teens who drink alcohol are more likely to have memory impairment than those who do not.
Using alcohol puts a teenager at a higher risk for getting robbed, raped or assaulted, as a teen’s judgment is impaired when under the influence of alcohol, and they are more likely to place themselves in unsafe situations they would typically avoid.
- Smoking marijuana can cause damage to the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
- Marijuana is not believed by many to be addictive, yet one in 10 marijuana users can become addicted and this increases to one in six when under the age of 18.
- Marijuana has been linked to brain changes affecting memory, emotion, motivation and decision-making.
Legally prescribed pain medications can be helpful for chronic pain relief, but they have the potential to be highly addictive. One of the biggest risks associated with opioid misuse is the overdose.
- In 2017, there were more than 72,000 overdose deaths in the United States, and opioids were the leading cause.
- Many teens are not aware that opioid use can lead to heroin and fentanyl use.
- Continuous use of opioids can result in an increased tolerance, which can lead to use of illicit drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl.
- Heroin IV users face a high risk for contracting hepatitis C and HIV.
Vaping is considered to be safer than cigarettes, and teens are attracted to the sleek designs and diverse flavors. E-cigarettes, vapes and juuls are thought to contain nothing but water vapor, but they actually produce an aerosol that is full of heavy metals, cancer-causing chemicals and high amounts of nicotine.
- 1 in 5 teens are using e-cigarettes, vapes, or juuls.
- 1 juul pod has the same amount of nicotine as 20 cigarettes.
- Nicotine is a harmful and highly addictive drug that can impair adolescent brain development.
Much of the deception about drug and alcohol misuse begins with false impressions about addiction itself. There is a stigma attached to addiction that implies that it is a moral failing of sorts. However, addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is a chronic disease that affects the brain and is no different from common chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. It can affect anyone regardless of age, race, family, upbringing or social status.
Many people ignore or are unaware of the warning signs of a substance use disorder. If you, or someone you love, are using alcohol or drugs as a way to cope or are experiencing negative impacts on social, personal or professional lives because of drug and alcohol use, help is available.
Kimberly Wright, BSN, RN, is the substance use disorder treatment program manager at HopeHealth.