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Booze, Pot & Pills - Know the Facts! 

June 26, 2015  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

Last week I had the opportunity to meet with more than 400 8th and 9th graders at a high school outside of Falmouth to have a dialogue about the myths and realities of underage drinking, marijuana, and opiate use. I am amazed at how knowledgeable many of these 13 and 14 year old kids are about alcohol and drug use in their community. Much of the back-and-forth dealt with the Massachusetts Social Host Law and the possibility (or probability) that marijuana will become legal for recreational use. The information I provided to these young teens is all evidence-based and came from the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, and information from surveys conducted in the Falmouth Public Schools.

Some Alcohol and Drug Facts

Your teen hears a lot about alcohol and other drugs from friends, siblings, through adolescent-specific marketing campaigns, or on social media. Unfortunately, much of what they hear is based on myth and misconception and the information may not always be true or accurate. 

Some teens have seen firsthand the dangers of alcohol and drugs and the damage they can do to their friends and families. So, what’s the real story? 

Fact:  Alcohol kills more youth than all other drugs combined — from alcohol poisoning, homicides, suicides, auto accidents, and unintentional injuries such as burns, drowning, and falls.

Fact:  Alcohol and drugs are the leading causes of crime among youth.

Fact:  More than 23 million people over the age of 12 are addicted to alcohol and other drugs, affecting millions more people…..spouses, children, family members, friends, neighbors and colleagues at work.

Fact:  Alcohol and drug use places kids at higher risk for academic failure, depression, sexual assault, teen pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infection.

Fact:  Drinking alcohol or using drugs during adolescence damages parts of the brain responsible for decision-making, self-control, and memory and learning

Most Teens ARE NOT Drinking or Using Drugs 

One reason some teens decide to start smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol or using other drugs is because they think “everyone's doing it.”  And, since they think that the majority of their peers are using drugs or drinking, they draw the conclusion that it must be OK. If your teen thinks that "everyone is doing it,” consider the facts; most students go through high school without ever doing drugs or getting drunk.  

The 2013 survey conducted in the Falmouth Public Schools documented that among high school students:

  • more than 60% did not drink alcohol 
  • more than 70% did not use marijuana
  • more than 95% did not use prescription medication such as opiate painkillers or stimulants such as Adderall
  • more than 95% did not use heroin
  • more than 95% did not use other drugs, such as inhalants, tranquilizers, barbiturates, ecstasy, cocaine, LSD (or another hallucinogen) or methamphetamine

Given these statistics, if you're teens are hanging out with a group in which many of the kids are using drugs to get high, they may want to think about making some new friends or getting involved with pro-social activities such as Jack’s PACT.

Some Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol and Drugs

The following questions are similar to ones that I answered or asked during my presentation to the 8th and 9th grade students last week.

Question:  Why is age of first use of alcohol so important?

Answer:  Kids who start drinking alcohol before age 15 are 5 times more likely to develop alcohol abuse or dependence than people who first used alcohol at age 21 or older.  A study published in one of the leading pediatric medical journals showed that 47% of teens who began drinking before age 15 experienced alcohol dependence at some point in their life, compared to 9% percent of those who began drinking at age 21 or older.

Question:  Can you get addicted even though you only do it once in a while?

Answer:  YES.  Addiction to alcohol and drugs is a process - not an event.  Most teens who use alcohol and drugs do so with the intention of only using once or “once in a while.”  No one decides that they want to become addicted to or dependent on alcohol and drugs.  But, your teen is dealing with substances that directly affect their brains and it’s easy for occasional use to become frequent use or constant use.  The only thing we know for sure:  if your teens do not drink alcohol or do drugs, they definitely will not become addicted.

Question:  Does marijuana use lead to the use of other drugs?

Answer:  While most teens who use marijuana do not go on to use other illegal drugs, long-term studies of high school students show that few young people use other illegal drugs without first using marijuana.  Using marijuana may put  your kids in contact with people who are users and sellers of other drugs and they are more likely to be exposed to and urged to try other drugs. 

Question:  Why do some people develop a substance use disorder (addiction), while others do not?

Answer:  Risk factors for becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs, like other conditions and diseases, vary from person to person.  But, the common risk factors include:  genetics — your family history of alcohol and drug use;  age when you start using alcohol or drugs; family dynamics —  including abuse, neglect and traumatic experiences in childhood; and social environment —  including access to alcohol and drugs; and, types of drugs used.

Question:  Should you be concerned about prescription drugs when the “real problem” is street drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine?

Answer:  You and your teen should be concerned about alcohol and all of the other drugs, legal and illegal.  As you know from the frequent news there has been a significant increase in the non-medical use of prescription pain drugs among young people.  In fact, after marijuana, the next three most commonly used drugs of abuse are the prescription pain medications:  Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet.

Question:  Can a person be too young to become addicted to alcohol and drugs?

Answer:  No, evidence shows that the younger someone starts using alcohol and drugs, the greater the chance that they will become addicted.

Question:  Marijuana is just a plant... is it really dangerous?

Answer:  Yes, marijuana is a plant but it has very real health consequences, especially for teens.  While some people think marijuana is harmless experience and science show a different reality. Heavy marijuana use in adolescence leads to an average IQ loss of 8 points later in life. And, 1 in 6 kids who try marijuana will become addicted to it.

Question:  What is a “standard drink” of alcohol?

Answer:  A standard alcohol drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol (0.6 ounces): 12-ounces of beer, 5-ounces of wine, or 1.5-ounces or “shot” of distilled spirits/liquor, such as rum, gin, vodka, or whiskey.

Question:  Are alcohol problems and drug addiction genetically inherited?

Answer:  Research shows that the risk for developing a problem with alcohol or drugs runs in families.  However, having a genetic predisposition does not mean that the child of a parent with an addiction problem will automatically also have a problem.  Not all children of alcoholic or addicted parents get into trouble with alcohol and drugs.  And some people develop alcoholism and addiction even though no one in their family has a drinking or drug problem.

Question:  If your teen thinks that prescription pills might help them feel better or deal with stress, is it OK for to use them once in a while?

Answer:  You and your teens may think that prescription drugs are safer than alcohol or illegal drugs because a doctor prescribed them.  When prescription drugs are used without a prescription they can be as dangerous as alcohol or illegal drugs.  Your teen can quickly become dependent or addicted, or die from abusing prescription drugs…even the first time.

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