This year it seems every discussion has been centered around a different former child star or teen idol who has become involved in yet another drug or alcohol-related crime, incident, or even full on meltdown. Whether it was the untimely death of Cory Monteith, Lindsay Lohan’s legal trouble, or Amanda Bynes involuntary committal, drugs and/or alcohol abuse were at the center.
Sadly, these sort of news stories are neither new nor unique. Although their drug rehab stints receive far more attention, drug addiction is not limited to former child stars. Teen drug abuse is a widespread problem that has become woven into the fibers of our society. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be going away anytime soon.
The War on Drugs
Throughout the ‘80s and the ‘90s, there was a great push to reduce drug and alcohol use amongst teenagers. Programs such as D.A.R.E. and the “Just Say No” campaign from Nancy Reagan became well-known and part of popular culture. However, these programs are largely considered failures. After considerable research and feedback from students, data suggests the best deterrents to teen drug use is parental involvement and peer support groups. Implementing new initiatives such as the “keepin’ it REAL” program encourages positive lifestyles that include a drug and alcohol free culture coming from their peers instead of authoritative figures disguised as catchphrases.
Overall, have we seen a long term drop in teen drug and alcohol use? Unfortunately, it seems that the answer is no. Illegal drug use has remained steady, perhaps dropped slightly, but alcohol use is just as prevalent as ever, and there has been a rise in prescription drug abuse among teens. In fact, a recent CNN article stated that about 47 percent of teenagers have admitted to using illegal drugs. Furthermore, in one survey, 39 percent of teenagers admitted to drinking regularly, and the number who drink occasionally is even higher.
So why is it that this is one problem that we simply cannot eradicate? Part of the problem is that drugs and alcohol are inherently linked with teen pop culture. Pop artists sing about taking drugs, movies are filled with teenagers at parties with alcohol, and everything around teenagers tells them that these substances are necessary in order to have a good time and live a glamorous life. So perhaps part one of getting our kids away from drugs and alcohol, is to get them away from our kids.
Changing an entire culture is a tricky and a near impossible task. However, a more realistic goal might be to identify ways to increase children’s self-esteem when they are young as well as prepare them pitfalls of drug use and peer pressure. Teaching our kids about the ins and outs of drug use, and helping them to understand their long term effects, can be the most important thing that we as parents can do. This in turn means that, in order to help teach kids, we first have to educate parents. Teenagers are not exactly well known for listening to their parents, but if their parents make an effort to educate about the dangers from a young age, it can make a real difference when the time comes to make their own decision. We cannot possibly hope to eradicate drug and alcohol abuse among all teenagers, but if we are going to make an impact, we will have to do it one teenager at a time.