Want to be a force against drug and alcohol addiction in your home, school or community? Start by knowing some key facts.
- Marijuana – including medical marijuana – is addictive.Often I present this fact about marijuana to youth in our schools. Some kids will counter that their family belief is that it is not addictive. Granted, it is not addictive for most people. In fact, about 9% of all adults who try marijuana will get addicted. What factors increase risk of addiction for people? A history of trauma, co-occurring mental illness, genetic predisposition, and even nicotine use (see below). However, when youth try marijuana, 17% of them will become addicted. Note this higher number? This has to do with a youth’s underdeveloped brain. (National Institute of Drug Abuse: Is Marijuana Addictive?)
- The earlier you start using drugs, alcohol and nicotine, the more likely you will become addicted. Again, this is due to the immature brain. Because the youth’s brain is still developing, it is easier for drugs, alcohol and nicotine to negatively influence the neuropathways and influence thinking, acting and problem solving. Hey teens – want some advice? If you are planning on using alcohol, drugs and nicotine, wait until your early 20s to start. You will help improve your ability to have good memory, problem solve, and use good judgement. You will also lessen your chances to become addicted. Believe it or not, there are good reasons behind the drinking age being 21. Protect your brain! (SAMHSA: Teen Initiation of Substance Use)
- Nicotine increases urges to use alcohol.Parents: perhaps you know your kid is smoking or vaping and you think, “no big deal, as long as it isn’t harder drugs.” Think again. Nicotine has enormous impact not only one’s physical health, but one’s mental health as well. Early onset of regular tobacco use (smoking before age 13) is a significant risk factor for the following illnesses: a lifetime diagnosis of major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, agoraphobia, general anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. (Choi, Patten, Gillin, Kaplan & Pierce 1997; Hanna & Grant, 1999; Johnson et al., 2000). And if that weren’t bad enough, nicotine changes the brain in ways that increases the rewards from the use of alcohol.
Ever heard of someone who only “smokes when they drink?” This is due to the way the nicotine and alcohol relate with each other in the brain, increasing rewards for using the nicotine and alcohol together. Adolescents who begin smoking are 3 times more likely to begin using alcohol. And smokers are 10 times more likely to develop alcoholism than are nonsmokers. If we want to work on youth prevention for alcohol and drug use, we have to be mindful of the hidden known and damaging effects of nicotine on youth. (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol & Tobacco)
Our efforts at prevention need to start with youth.
If youth never pick up a drink or a drug, they won’t get addicted.
If youth delay their initiation to drugs and alcohol to their early 20s, they lessen their chances for addiction.
How can we intervene?
Get these facts out there; talk to youth, be a source of information for your home, school and community.
This shows them that you care.
by Christina Fay. LCSW, LADC, CCS
Licensed Alcohol & Drug Counselor