There are many negative consequences associated with drinking alcohol at a young age. Teens can suffer serious and immediate consequences after drinking alcohol, such as injury, engaging in dangerous sexual behaviors that can result in unplanned pregnancy or contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Or, they may choose to ride with a driver who is under the influence.
There are long-term effects, as well. Teens who drink are increasing their risk of developing heart disease or various types of cancer later in life. Because they begin drinking at a young age, teens expose their bodies to these risks for a longer period of time than a person who begins drinking in adulthood.
One major consequence of drinking is that it affects many other behaviors. Individuals who drink alcohol often experience a problem with executive functioning in the brain. Such brain functions as working memory are impacted by the consumption of alcohol.
The research about how alcohol affects executive function is often limited by the methods used to gather data. Often, researchers gather information about alcohol’s effects by asking participants to recount their experiences with alcohol consumption. This method carries with it all the potential problems inherent in data that relies on self-report, such as participants concerned about self-preservation or who remember events incorrectly.
Alcohol-Related Teen Behavior
Another method of examining alcohol-related behaviors is achieved through setting up an environment that mimics a real-life situation. Participants may be evaluated while they sip alcohol at an imitation bar or in a mock social situation. However, researchers cannot be certain that their imitation is close enough to the real thing.
A recent study by researchers at Rutgers University avoids the potential pitfalls of these types of studies by examining the impact of alcohol on executive functioning among students consuming alcohol in real situations. The study is unique in its consideration of the acute effects of alcohol on drinkers under the age of 21.
Previous studies have documented the effects of alcohol functioning, but the studies were focused on adults. The researchers wanted to measure the acute and chronic effects of alcohol on brain functioning in teens. These functions included such aspects as working memory and mental flexibility.
The researchers used field recruitment methods to gather data on underage drinkers, measuring intoxication levels through breath alcohol content. They also looked at chronic alcohol use by measuring the number of years the teen had been drinking.
The researchers used a “trail making test” to measure visuomotor performance and mental flexibility among 91 participants between the ages of 18 and 20.
The researchers found that the breath alcohol measurements were a predictor for performance on the trail making test. Those who had a higher level of intoxication performed more poorly on the task.
In addition, the researchers found that the current measurement of breath alcohol content and the measurement for chronic alcohol use predicted lower scores on the trail making test, but each predicted lower scores for different types of trails.
The research suggests that chronic alcohol consumption has a serious impact on the executive functioning processes of the brain among underage drinkers.
The information provided by the study highlights the potential that teens have for making significant mistakes while engaging in risky behavior after drinking. Teens may make poor decisions due to a low level of mental flexibility and visuomotor impairment.
By measuring the ability of teens to complete the trail making test in a field setting, the researchers were able to accurately measure how executive functioning works in a real-life setting for teens. The findings clearly indicate the danger involved for teens when they drink and then are faced with a risk-taking situation. The executive functioning required to skillfully navigate a risky challenge may not be present once alcohol has been consumed.
25 Jun 2013
Teenagers have been pulling all-nighters and cramming for tests for as long as schools have existed. Maybe even you have pulled an all-nighter, fueled by nothing more than a 2-liter bottle of caffeinated soda and the fear of telling your parents you failed an important test. Today, however, many teens are turning to something a lot more powerful than Pepsi or Red Bull to help them stay awake while they study. They’re using other substances — the kind that can lead to a serious drug addiction — to fuel their academic endeavors.
The stimulants typically used as “study drugs” are medications — the kind frequently prescribed for mental health conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. In teenagers with a legitimate medical need like ADHD, these drugs have a counterbalancing effect on the brain. In essence, they help create a calmer state of mind that allows the teen to focus more readily. When used properly by those who need them, prescription stimulants are not addictive.
These same medicines, however, have a different effect on teens who don’t struggle with ADHD. They start using these medications — for example Ritalin, Concerta, Metadate, or Adderall — with the belief that they will sharpen their focus, boost their energy, help them stay alert, and / or enhance their school performance. While the drugs may provide bursts of energy and improve alertness temporarily, they also quickly create a vicious cycle — the cycle that can easily lead to drug addiction. With continued use, teens often find they need increasing amounts of the drugs to get the same effect, so they keep upping the dose. Eventually they become so dependent on the drug that they can’t function without it.
The drugs, which have street names like Vitamin R, college crack, or Addy, can be taken in their original pill or capsule form. Some teens will crush the pill or open the capsule to snort the drug directly into their system. Regardless of how they are taken, there is no evidence that study drugs boost academic performance in teens not diagnosed with ADHD.
A survey found that approximately 10% of teenagers admit to using study drugs. However, the same survey also revealed that only one in 100 parents believe their teen is using the drugs. The study also found that use was concentrated among white students, while African-American and Latino teens tended to use them less. The use of study drugs rises to as much as 35% in college students. In addition, nearly 30% of teens surveyed believe it is safer to use prescription drugs than illegal street drugs.
Access to Study Drugs
Teenagers can be very savvy when it comes to acquiring these drugs, particularly if they’ve become addicted to them or already struggle with a drug addiction. For example, some will game the health care system by learning the symptoms of ADHD. They convince their parents and doctor that they have the disorder, receiving a legal prescription that then allows them access to one of these study drugs. This method may also permit some adolescents to receive the medication under a parent’s health care plan. This allows them to get the drug without coming up with the money to purchase it themselves.
Another way teens access study drugs is by theft. Some will take advantage of a family member with ADHD, stealing from his or her supply of legitimately prescribed medications. Some teens will steal physicians’ prescription pads to write out their own authorization for the drugs.
Some teens will illegally purchase stimulant medications. For example, they may buy a few pills from a friend who has a legitimate prescription. In fact, research shows that one out of every three teens believes it’s OK to take medications that have not been prescribed to them.
Why Teens Abuse Study Drugs
Teenagers face increasing pressure to succeed in school. Kids can be worried that if they don’t get good grades, they won’t be accepted into competitive colleges, won’t win needed grant or scholarship funds, or will become ineligible for high school or college sports. When health science researchers analyzed Twitter feeds for 6 months, they found that Adderall mentions spiked during typical finals periods. Mentions of the study drug were also higher mid-week and lower on the weekend. The findings suggest that students are talking about Adderall during the usual periods of academic stress.
Danger of Study Drug Addiction
Like any prescription medication, ADHD drugs have side effects — some of which are quite common with medications in general. Teens who take these drugs may experience stomach upset, sleep problems, decreased appetite, or daytime drowsiness. Long-term use can also slow height gain, with at least one expert reporting that a user might be as much as a quarter-inch shorter each year.
Study drug abuse has other side effects as well. For example, some individuals taking ADHD medications have reported heart problems. This can be an especially serious issue if an abuser lives with an undiagnosed heart condition. A teen might also develop tics, or repetitive motions, such as head jerking or excessive blinking.
Stimulants may also alter mood. This often occurs as the effects of the drug wear off. Sometimes referred to as the “rebound effect,” some teens may become very sensitive or more irritable. Others may appear to react differently than is normal for them. For example, they may appear to be sad even though they don’t feel sad. These types of side effects are more common in short-acting stimulants.
The abuse of study drugs can also mask the effects of alcohol. A teen using study drugs and drinking may not realize how intoxicated he’s become. He may binge drink because he doesn’t feel the effects of the alcohol. The combination of alcohol and stimulant medication can lead to dangerous situations that result in blackouts, alcohol poisoning, drunken driving and serious accidents and injuries. Approximately two out of three emergency room visits involving ADHD medications also involved at least one other substance, such as alcohol.
Warning Signs of Study Drug Abuse
- Altered mood or behavior, including irritability or intense mood swings
- Periods of sleeplessness
- Decreased appetite or weight loss
- Lapses in memory
- Dilated pupils
- Dry nose and mouth
- Secretive behavior, such as isolation or unexplained spending
What Parents Can Do
If you suspect your teen is abusing study drugs, seek professional help. An addiction specialist can help you come up with a plan to get your teen into rehab. Treatment will include a mental health assessment to identify other challenges your teen may be facing. For instance, he or she may have a co-occurring mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, that is contributing to the addictive behavior.
Because study drug abuse is often triggered by a desire to perform well, therapy can teach your teen how to deal with stress and anxiety in a healthy manner. A therapist may introduce helpful relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation. Other recommended stress relief remedies may include physical activity, like regular exercise, or a creative outlet, such as journaling.
If your teen does not have ADHD and is abusing Adderall or other stimulant medications, it can lead to drug addiction. Talk with an addiction expert who’s experienced with treating adolescents. Your teenager’s life and well-being are worth more than his or her ability to excel in school.
Read More about Student Drug Abuse: College Student’s Death Sparks Renewed Warnings About the Dangers of Inhalants
The war on drugs has cost tax payers billions of dollars. In 2010 alone, the misuse of drugs cost America nearly 40,000 lives. Alcohol was blamed as a factor in about 85,000 deaths. Prescription drug abuse led to more than 22,000 deaths in 2010.
New statistics coming out of the state of New Mexico are causing worry among health officials there. The state has some of the most alarming statistics when it comes to alcohol abuse. New Mexico holds the inauspicious record for the highest number of alcohol-related deaths in the nation since 1997. Drug abuse in the state also lands it squarely in the top three states year after year.
What’s leading to the massive rate of use and abuse in New Mexico? The New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey of middle school and high school students found that many youths can easily obtain illegal substances with few, if any, significant obstacles in their way. Two-thirds of that survey’s recipients said that alcohol is readily accessible.
The survey found that 66 percent of teens judged access to marijuana as “uncomplicated.” In addition, 28 percent of high-schoolers said that “hard drugs” were readily accessible.
The state is getting “SWAT” teams in on the action by establishing relationships with the state’s youth. But these are not the SWAT teams dressed in black, carrying assault weapons. SWAT stands for Student Wellness Action Team. The members work with public and private schools to provide alcohol and drug awareness to youths across the state.
The problem of inhalant abuse has surfaced again in a recent story from California, where nitrous oxide abuse is linked to the death of a college student. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over 1 million Americans abuse inhalants each year, and they’re keen to point out that the problem is far from confined to adolescents. In the wake of the incident, law-makers in California are looking at implementing new legislation and raising awareness to reduce the numbers of needless deaths from inhalant abuse. However, the strategy appears to be geared toward young people, when national research has shown that the majority of inhalant admissions are actually from adults.
The Recent Death
Nineteen-year-old Claremont McKenna College student Ali Mirza was found with nitrous oxide canisters, or “whippets,” in his dorm room when he died. He was rushed to Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Centre, after paramedics failed to revive him at the scene of the incident last month. He was pronounced dead at 2am on May 17th, and his funeral is scheduled for the June 15th. His family and friends will mourn his untimely passing, but the increased efforts of police officers and law officials to combat inhalant abuse may prove to have positive consequences for LA’s youth.
The Dangers of Inhalants
“Inhalants” is actually a fairly broad term to describe drugs that are “huffed” by users and many different substances could fall under the group. These include paint, marker pens, glue, air freshener, butane and substances like nitrous oxide. Despite the large number of substances used, most of them have similar effects to anesthetics and carry numerous potential risks. The most widespread (being a possibility with all inhalants) is sudden sniffing death syndrome, which basically results from a disturbance to the heart’s natural rhythm and is often fatal. Inhalants can also cause brain cell death, lung damage, short-term memory loss, and liver and kidney damage.
Nitrous oxide balloons (commonly known as “laughing gas”), in particular, pose a problem because the effect of a single “high” only lasts for five minutes or less. This means that users will generally repeat doses in a single evening of use, and this multiplies the potential for damage. When the user is “huffing,” he is depriving himself of oxygen, and repeated oxygen deprivation can lead to unconsciousness or—over time—brain damage.
The problem of inhalant abuse has been on the rise among California youths, according to Veronica De Alba (a deputy city attorney in LA), and this has led her to push for increased legislation to protect California adolescents. Police in the area are working on an ongoing 15-month investigation – entitled “Operation No Laughing Matter” – to curb the usage and availability of nitrous oxide. This has dramatically reduced the supply of the drug in the LA County area, but a continued effort is evidently required to prevent resurgence in usage down the line.
Not Just Teens
Research from SAMHSA has shown that adults actually make up the majority of admissions to treatment facilities for inhalant abuse. The study showed that out of all admissions to treatment facilities for inhalant abuse, 54 percent were from people aged 18 or over in 2008. Admittedly, the majority of these admissions (52 percent) were from those in the 18 to 29 age group, but it still calls the adolescent focus of recent efforts into question.
While there is obviously a problem with inhalant abuse among teens, the problem is far from confined to them, and any public health-focused responses should take this into account. The sad truth is that inhalant abuse, like all drug abuse, may be commonly associated with troublesome youths, but it’s actually common in people from all walks of life. Some similar assumptions, which may be made about the race of inhalant abusers, were also addressed by the study and the results showed that the majority of the admissions were white males.
Broadening the Scope of Prevention and Education
Public awareness of the dangers of huffing will undoubtedly be improved by the recent story, but it’s important that you don’t mentally file it way as something that only really affects young people. The negative health impacts of huffing don’t discriminate based on age—they can affect any user—and research seems to show that adults are actually more likely to be heavy huffers. Broadening the scope of inhalant awareness campaigns to also appeal to adults initially seems like an unnecessary step, but statistics tell us that it’s just as vital as targeting teens and young adults.
23 Mar 2013
The variety of substances misused by people at times seems staggering. It is especially alarming when teenagers come up with a different everyday substances to consume, smoke, or inhale for a high. When they cannot get access to alcohol or street drugs, kids often turn to household items. Using inhalants like aerosol cans, for instance, is nothing new. Popping up on the radar now, however, is abuse of mothballs. The smelly, moth-deterring balls that protect wool sweaters are giving some kids a high and sometimes leading to health consequences as well.