Among the most important of the many problematic behaviors contributing to the rise of teen suicide is drug and alcohol abuse. Research indicates a fairly close connection between the two. And that’s not all. Studies also show that in 30 to 50 percent of teen suicide cases, substance abuse is actually a part of the event itself; a large number of teens who take their own lives do so not only while they’re intoxicated but because they’re intoxicated. Intoxicating substances tend to worsen any mental or emotional problems an adolescent may already have. At the same time, they remove any inhibitions that may keep a teen from carrying out his desperate plan. No wonder the result is often tragic.
Defining Our Terms
Substance abuse has become so prevalent in our culture that we as parents need to keep an eye out for it as early as the elementary grades. It helps to know exactly what we’re talking about before tackling the challenge, so here’s a list of some of the key terms.
Substance use disorder (SUD) or alcohol use disorder (AUD). This is the current term clinicians use to refer to drug addiction and alcoholism. It’s a reminder that substance abuse is a serious yet treatable medical and a mental health problem.
Abuse. Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that leads to dysfunction and impairs people’s ability to fulfill their responsibilities. Drug abuse includes the use of any kind of street drug at any time as well as the use of prescription drugs without the authorization of a qualified physician.
Dependence. Physiological changes in the brain produce a heightened tolerance to the effects of the abused substance. As a result, users develop a need to ingest it in increasingly larger amounts. This causes them to become psychologically dependent upon it.
Addiction. Addiction includes both mental and physical dependence. Addicts can’t function effectively without their drug of choice. When deprived of it for too long, they develop physical withdrawal symptoms and may even die as a result.
Facts and Statistics
According to a U.S. Surgeon General’s Report, more than twenty million Americans aged twelve or older suffered from an addiction in 2015. That number included millions of teens and young adults. Studies have shown that 40 percent of twelfth-graders, 30 percent of tenth-graders, and 13 percent of eighth-graders have used a drug in the past year.
Three addictive substances top the list of drugs favored by young abusers: alcohol, marijuana, and opioids.
Teens and young adults misuse alcohol more than any other substance. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 623,000 adolescents between the ages of twelve and seventeen (2.5 percent of this age group) had alcohol use disorder.
The marijuana currently on the market is far more potent than the pot of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. Today’s marijuana is at least ten times more potent and damaging to the brain than the strains that were common thirty or forty years ago. It’s also far easier to obtain than it used to be.
Opioids and prescription painkillers may be the most dangerous and widely available of all the addictive substances currently used by teens and young adults. In many cases they’re more easily accessible than liquor or street drugs because they can often be found in the medicine cabinet at home. We’ll talk more about this crisis when we discuss the topic of “pharming.”
- “Highlights of The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health: At-a-Glance,” https://addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/sites/default/files/report-highlights.pdf (accessed August 15, 2018).