Substance abuse, also known as drug abuse, refers to a maladaptive pattern of use of a substance that is not considered dependent. The initiation of drug and alcohol use is most likely to occur during adolescence, and some experimentation with substances by older adolescents is common.
About half of depressed children also show significant signs of other psychiatric problems, including anxiety disorders and disruptive disorders, Dr. Fassler said. In adolescents, there is also a significant overlap with drug and alcohol abuse.
It is also not easy for parents to know when their children -- especially adolescents -- are experiencing normal reactions to the stresses of life, and when they are depressed. All children become sad from time to time. The key to distinguishing between the emotion of sadness and depression lies in the level of intensity and the duration of the feelings, Dr. Fassler said.
At least 53 percent of all American adolescents have tried an illicit drug by the time they have finished high school, according to the Michigan researchers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that from 1993 to 2001 the rate of binge drinking episodes among drinkers 18 to 20 increased by 56 percent, compared with an increase of 35 percent for all American adults. Binge drinking was defined as five or more drinks at a sitting, with the intention of becoming drunk.
To highlight the continuing problems, a number of doctors who treat substance abuse among adolescents will give a report to all members of Congress and every state governor on Thursday. The report, by a group called the Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy, describes teenage alcohol and drug abuse as a national public health problem.
Poisonings rise again during the teenage years, as adolescents experiment with virtually any substance that can be sniffed or swallowed. In recent years, prescription drugs have ranked second only to marijuana as drugs of abuse among adolescents.
According to data compiled by Dr. Alvin C. Bronstein, the director of surveillance for the American Association of Poison Control Centers, and Dr. Daniel A. Spyker of Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., three types of exposures have increased most significantly among children ages 10 to 19 during the last decade: ingestions of atypical antipsychotic drugs, up by 543 cases per year on average; ingestions of benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety drugs), which have risen by 328 cases per year; and ingestions of certain antiseizure medications, which have grown by 300 cases a year.
One out of every 15 high school students smokes marijuana on a near daily basis, a figure that has reached a 30-year peak even as use of alcohol, cigarettes and cocaine among teenagers continues a slow decline, according to a new government report.
The popularity of marijuana, which is now more prevalent among 10th graders than cigarette smoking, reflects what researchers and drug officials say is a growing perception among teenagers that habitual marijuana use carries little risk of harm. That perception, experts say, is fueled in part by wider familiarity with medicinal marijuana and greater ease in obtaining it.
But the focus of the study was the “why.” The RAND authors found that two factors in particular were key to whether Hispanic seventh- and eighth-graders drank or smoked: Their “life skills” in saying no to offers of illicit substances, and whether they expected bad consequences from using the substances – such as poor grades, or poor sports performance.
In the Asian-American group, the most important factors were different. Asian seventh- and eighth-graders were especially less likely to drink or smoke if parents and siblings abstained or disapproved. They were also strongly influenced by whether they had positive impressions of drinking – for example, whether they thought it would make them more popular.
Non-medical prescription drug use is a growing problem that increased 212 percent among U.S. teens from 1992 to 2003, according to the study. It is an area of concern because it’s associated with the use of other drugs including cocaine and heroin, and in problem behaviors such as gambling, increased sexual activity, and "impulsivity,” the study said. “Individuals who use prescription drugs earlier in life have a greater chance of later developing prescription drug dependence,” the authors wrote.
So who’s to blame for substance use among adolescents? There's a lot of it to go around, says Foster. Glamorous alcohol and tobacco advertising gets a ding, as do pharmaceutical ads that present pills for any ills. The media in general also take a hit for playing down or making light of characters who are drunk or high, according to the report. Even parents get a not-so-honorable mention for either looking the other way when their teenagers experiment with addictive substances, or for thinking that this experimenting is just another rite of passage on the way to adulthood.
Marijuana can stay in a teenager's system for days, impacting the building blocks of learning and memory. That's because the teen brain probably has more receptors drugs to bind to -- the same is true for alcohol. And in teens who regularly use pot, IQ can permanently decrease, research has shown.
On the plus side, teens are rapid learners, since their brains are still developing.
But that also means they can get "addicted faster, longer and stronger," Dr. Frances Jensen said at TEDMED in 2010.
Nearly 73,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 were asked about their use of alcohol and nine types of drugs–marijuana or hashish, cocaine or crack, hallucinogens, heroin, prescription opioids or pain killers like oxycodone or morphine, stimulants or amphetamines, sedatives and tranquilizers. 37% percent admitted to drug or alcohol use in the past year, according to the study.
One in 12 teens reported having a substance-related disorder as part of the study. "The use of substances among adolescents in the U.S. is relatively high," Blazer said. "The use and the frequency of substance related disorders is fairly high in this group."
Native American youths have the highest rate of use and related disorders, African Americans and Asians the lowest.
Fourteen years ago about 75% of 12th-graders admitted drinking alcohol. In 2011, 63.5% say they did. This year almost 27% of eighth-graders surveyed used alcohol compared to approximately 47% in 1994. Over the last 5 years, binge drinking - defined as having five or more drinks in a row over a two-week period - fell among all three grades.
Teen smoking fell in all three grades as well. A little more than 10% of 12th graders say they smoke daily - down significantly from 24.6% in 1997; while just 2.4% of 8th graders reported smoking every day.