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Teen Drug Abuse

Weed: Still Going Strong

If your teen is using drugs, chances are he's smoking marijuana. Marijuana is often called the “gateway” drug because it may lead people to other drugs as well. (A 1994 study by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that 43 percent of teens who use pot by age 18 move on to cocaine.)

Today, marijuana is openly promoted at concerts, on CDs, even on clothes—sending teens a message of social acceptance that alarms the experts. The government's National Household Survey on Drug Abuse last September found that the number of teens who smoked pot nearly doubled between 1992 and 1994.

While some parents dismiss pot-smoking as a “stage” teens go through, there are some facts you ought to know:

Info Flash

The number of pot-smoking eighth graders has doubled since 1992, to 13 percent, according to a University of Michigan study. Among tenth graders, smoking jumped two-thirds to 25 percent; among seniors, it was 31 percent. The drug problem cuts across race, ethnic, gender, region, and size of city.

  • Age of use is down. In the 1992 Adolescent Drug Survey, the average age of first-time marijuana users dropped to between 13 and 15 from 14–17 the year before.
  • During the '60s and '70s, not much was known about the effects of marijuana. Now scientists have found that marijuana reduces coordination; slows reflexes; interferes with the ability to measure distance, speed, and time; and disrupts concentration and short-term memory. There are also cancer risks.
  • Quantity is up. Kids today smoke larger amounts than their parents' generation did.
  • Potency is up. The pot teens smoke today is stronger than what was around in the '60s, containing at least double quantities of THC (the primary psychoactive chemical).

Inhalants: The Accessible High

Here's a new one: your kid may be getting high on a drug you keep right in your own home—an inhalant, like your paint thinner or spray fabric protector.

According to studies conducted by the University of Michigan, one in five eighth graders has sniffed inhalants in their life. Inhalants are particularly popular among young adolescents, and inhalant use decreases slightly as students get older and move on to hard drugs, according to the study.

Parents are usually totally oblivious to the problem of inhalants, and they are totally available to teens. One teen describes going around the house looking for all the products that had “do not inhale” warning labels; another talked of taking a spray with her to school and spraying and sniffing her sweater regularly. (It took months before anyone caught on, and it was her friends who eventually pointed out to her that she had a problem.)

Distressingly, inhalants are not child's play. According to the American Council for Drug Education, sniffing certain chemical products—even just one time—can lead to brain damage, kidney failure, loss of concentration, and death.

Here are some signs to watch for in your teen:

  • Chemical smell
  • Drunken appearance
  • Flu-like symptoms (headache, nausea, runny nose)
  • Lack of attention or difficulty staying awake
  • Paraphernalia (soda cans, rags, plastic bags) that smell like chemicals
  • Weight loss
  • Rash or sores around the mouth


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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Teenager © 1996 by Kate Kelly. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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