The teenage years are when people transition from innocent children to socially savvy adults. During this period, most have feelings of insecurity as they are developing at a rapid pace both psychologically and physically. The need to belong to a group is strong during this time and, combined with the fact that they do not yet possess the decision-making wisdom of adults, often leads to poor choices including opting to use illegal drugs and alcohol.
Teenagers are naturally curious, one of the reasons given for experimenting with drugs. They also tend to become bored easily and experience frequent emotional highs and lows, all potential factors in teenage drug use. Experimenting with drugs causes many adverse effects especially in the case of developing youths. Of all drugs, alcohol is most widely used by both adults and youths but illegal drugs are consumed by a sizeable number of persons as well who emanate from all social circumstances.
The frequency of alcohol and drug use among young persons for social, recreational and experimental reasons is extensive and continues to escalate. Heightened propensities toward violent behaviors have also been linked to drug use but unlike the other negative outcomes, this may be a falsity. Drug use increases the chance that students will become pregnant, contract a communicable disease, perform poorly in school and attempt suicide as this discussion will examine.
Current research about using drug and alcohol
Parents spend much time and effort protecting their children from all of the ills of the world. When they become of age, they send those children to school properly clothed with lunch money and a kiss on the forehead with hopes they will become educated thus productive, enlightened citizens. Ironically, however, schools are havens for illegal drugs available for the asking. Parents and teachers seem oblivious and are evidently powerless to control this disturbing situation.
No one can deny that using illegal drugs can cause adverse effects to the user of any age but the effects to the teenager are especially damaging. Teenagers are in a much more vulnerable situation than are adults as they are still developing in every aspect of life.
Unfortunately, it remains this group that has the most access to drugs as schools have become prolific drug outlets. Statistics compiled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that schoolchildren have ready access to drugs and alcohol. “The average age of first alcohol use is 12 and the average age of first drug use is 13. 93 percent of all teenagers have some experience with alcohol by the end of their senior year of high school and 6 percent drink daily. Almost two-thirds of all American young people try illicit drugs before they finish high school” (Anderson, 1996)
The interrelation between drug use among teenagers and an increase of sexual activity is a widely accepted fact by researchers and the public alike. Many studies have consistently demonstrated a correlation between risky sexual behavior and drug use by the same students. Drug users are more inclined to take risks than do students that do not use drugs. This may be an obvious statement but a propensity to take risks with their health combined with a loss of inhibitions while on drugs and the need of all teenagers to be accepted by their peers leads to an increased level of sexual activity.
This problematic scenario also increases the likelihood of students having sex at an earlier age, having multiple sexual partners and decreases the chances that they will use contraception than those that do not use drugs. “Teens 15 and older who use drugs are five times more likely to have sex than are those teens who do not use drugs and teens who have used marijuana are four times more likely to have been pregnant or to have gotten someone pregnant than teens who have never smoked pot” (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 1997).
More than one-third of all teenagers who are sexually active state that they had been influenced by drug or alcohol use to do something of a sexual nature. Almost one-quarter of these teenagers reported that they had participated in unprotected sex as a result of drug or alcohol use. It is important to note that alcohol is a powerful drug and illegal to minors putting it into the illegal drug category with respect to teenage use. Teens 14 and under who drink or use drugs are more likely to be having sex at double the rate of those in this age group that do not. High school teenagers that use alcohol are seven times more likely to have sex than their non-drinking peers.
Older teens that drink are seven times as likely to have intercourse as non-drinking teens and those that use other drugs five times as likely. Drug and alcohol using teenagers are three and five times, respectively, more likely to have multiple sexual partners (Hartge, 1999).
Teenagers experience more emotional fluctuations than do younger children or an adult which explains why the suicide rate is higher in that group. Teenagers that use drugs and alcohol are more likely to attempt suicide. According to a study of teenagers that attempted suicide, alcohol and drug abuse was the most frequently shared characteristic. Of the teenagers that took their own life, 70 per cent were frequent users of drugs and/or alcohol.
However, current research does not demonstrate that drug and alcohol use actually instigates suicide, just that these behaviors are connected. Teenagers that experience emotional problems to a higher degree than others have a greater propensity to consider suicide and to use drugs. However, drugs and alcohol could possibly magnify a pre-existing emotional problem and “may impair the judgment of teens considering suicide, making suicide attempts more likely” (Shaffer et al, 1996).
Illegal substances most frequently linked with drug-related fatalities include opiates such as heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and barbiturates. Alcohol, particularly when used in combination with harder drugs, is also linked with drug-related deaths. Cannabis and hallucinogens (i.e. L.S.D.; mushrooms) do not share this link. Heroin and other drugs that are injected into the bloodstream are often associated with the deadly disease HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus.
HIV causes AIDS, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. Besides being spread from the use of shared, contaminated syringes, AIDS is also contracted by sexual contact, from transfusions by contaminated blood and in the prenatal stages from mother to baby. Prior to 1980, AIDS was not even part of the vocabulary but since has become a widespread epidemic that is incurable and fatal.
People of the nation differ on many issues but most all can agree that parents do not want their children to use drugs and that the current policies of their particular nation are not effective. Many argue that legalizing drugs is tantamount to endorsing their use therefore encouraging children to partake in mind-altering substances. The truth, which is seldom a component of drug policy debates, is that decriminalization is a reasonable solution that protects civil liberties and will ultimately reduce the number of children who use.
It is generally easier for an underage child can buy marijuana and other drugs than alcohol or cigarettes which are legal, taxed and regulated. This approach, in conjunction with effective treatment programs, is the only proven method of combating the violent, debilitating, financially draining and socially harmful national youth drug and alcohol problem.
Anderson, Kerby. “Teen Drug Abuse” (1996). Web.
Harge, John. “Teen Drugs, Booze, Sex Linked.” CBS News. (1999). Web.
Shaffer, D.; Gould, M. S.; Fisher, P.; Trautment, P.; Moreau, D.; Kleinman, M.; & Flory, M. “Psychiatric Diagnosis in Child and Adolescent Suicide.” Archives of General Psychiatry. Vol. 53. (1996). pp. 339-348.
(The) National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. “Substance Abuse and the American Adolescent” The Commission on Substance Abuse Among American Adolescents. New York. (1997).