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Article Summary

Top Risks for Teen Drug Abuse

The risk that teens will smoke, drink, get drunk and use illegal drugs increases sharply if they are highly stressed, frequently bored or have substantial amounts of spending money, according to The National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse VIII: Teens and Parents, an annual back-to-school survey conducted by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

This was the first time in its eight-year history that the survey measured the impact of these characteristics on the likelihood of teen substance abuse.

Risk Factors for Teen Drug Abuse

  • High stress teens are twice as likely as low stress teens to smoke, drink, get drunk and use illegal drugs.
  • Often bored teens are 50 percent likelier than not often bored teens to smoke, drink, get drunk and use illegal drugs.
  • Teens with $25 or more a week in spending money are nearly twice as likely as teens with less to smoke, drink and use illegal drugs, and more than twice as likely to get drunk.
  • Teens exhibiting two or three of these characteristics are at more than three times the risk of substance abuse as those exhibiting none of these characteristics.
  • More than half the nation's 12-to-17 year olds (52 percent) are at greater risk of substance abuse because of high stress, frequent boredom, too much spending money, or some combination of these characteristics.

"High stress, frequent boredom and too much spending money are a catastrophic combination for many American teens," said CASA Chairman and President and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph A. Califano, Jr. "But it is a catastrophe that can be avoided through parental engagement. Parents must be sensitive to the stress in their children's lives, understand why they are bored and limit their spending money."

Teen Drug Use Statistics

  • More than 5 million 12-to-17 year olds (20 percent) can buy marijuana in a hour or less; another 5 million (19 percent) can buy marijuana within a day.
  • The proportion of teens that consider beer easier to buy than cigarettes or marijuana is up 80 percent from 2000 (18 percent vs. 10 percent).
  • For the first time in the survey's eight-year history, teens are as concerned about social and academic pressures as they are about drugs.
  • Teens at schools with more than 1,200 students are twice as likely as teens at schools with less than 800 students to be at high risk of substance abuse (25 percent vs. 12 percent).

"Two of the most common questions regarding teen drug use and addiction are: how can it happen to my child, and how can it happen to young boys or girls who seem to be typical teens?" said Califano. "These questions are often asked where the drug-abusing teen does not exhibit one of the usual warning signs of drug abuse – being physically or sexually abused, having a learning disability or eating disorder, suffering from serious depression or another mental health condition. CASA's teen survey suggests that for many teens, the answers to these questions can be found in high stress, frequent boredom and too much spending money."

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