Report: 90 Percent of Addicts Started Using as Teens

Filed under: In The News, Alcohol & Drugs, Research Reveals: Teens


teen drug use

The teen years are a time when addiction is especially possible, because adolescent brains are more sensitive and teens are more apt to experiment. Credit: Getty Images

Sorry, parents, but drug use among many teens is not just a passing phase.

A new report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) shows 90 percent of addicts in the U.S. began taking drugs, smoking or drinking alcohol in high school, ABC News reports.

"We now have enough science to show that adolescent substance use is America's no. 1 public health problem," Susan Foster, senior investigator of the study, tells the network. "By recognizing this as a health problem and responding to it, we can actually make the difference by improving the life prospects of teens and saving costs in society."

Experts tell ABC the teen years are a time when addiction is especially possible, because adolescent brains are more sensitive and teens are more apt to experiment.

"The brain is still developing up until age 25, so when you put nicotine and psychoactive substances in the body, it's actually messing with the brain as it's developing," Dr. Stanton Glantz, director of the University of California at San Francisco Center for Tobacco and Research and Education, tells the network. "Nicotine tends to be the gateway drug when kids start smoking younger. They're more likely to become addicted and smoke for a longer period of time."

Glantz continued to say that smoking creates permanent changes in the brain. When a person quits, some of those changes reverse, but never completely. Researchers also know that tobacco, alcohol and other drugs act similarly in the brain, so that the use of one substance heightens the risk of dependence on others.

Foster tells ABC teens should be screened for family addiction and mental health histories.

"We need to ... ask questions and intervene and understand what circumstances exist in the family, including mental health conditions, history of addiction and eating disorders," she tells the network.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.