Surveys say: Adolescent substance abuse still a major concern

October 1, 2003

Two surveys published last month indicated that the adolescent age group continues to be at substantial risk for substance abuse.

Two surveys published last month indicated that the adolescent age group continues to be at substantial risk for substance abuse.

The 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (formerly called the Household Survey) show a small decline in youthful marijuana and tobacco use, an uptick in non-medical use of prescription drugs and inhalants, and substantial use of alcohol. About 28% of 12- to 20-year-old respondents reported drinking alcohol in the month before the survey; 19.3% reported binge drinking; and 6.2% said they had partaken of heavy drinking.

The 2003 back-to-school survey conducted by the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found that 20% of 12- to 17-year-olds say they can buy marijuana in an hour or less and 18% say beer is easier to buy than cigarettes or marijuana. Teens who are the most likely substance abusers are those who say they are bored, complain of feeling stressed, or have more than $25 of spending money a week.

According to the Board on Children, Youth, and Families of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), alcohol is the most serious danger: A new IOM report, "Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility," says: "More young people drink alcohol than use other drugs or smoke tobacco, and underage drinking costs the nation an estimated $53 billion annually in losses stemming from traffic fatalities, violent crime, and other behaviors that threaten the well-being of youth."

To counter that threat, the IOM proposes a shared public and private strategy to curb teenage drinking. The report calls for:

  • A coordinated effort to block liquor ads from time slots and advertising venues to which teenagers have easy access

  • A public education campaign to dissuade adults from making liquor purchases for underage drinkers,

  • A crackdown on Internet sales and home delivery of alcoholic beverages

  • Motion picture and television ratings that take into account the way drinking alcohol is portrayed

  • Sharply increased state and federal excise taxes on alcoholic beverages to price them out of the range of young buyers.

The electronic text of the report can be read on the Web site of the National Academy Press, www.nap.edu .