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High School Students and Drug Use: How Bad is It?

Every generation seems to think that the generation after it is somehow less moral and more perverse, with a greater inclination towards societal vices such as drug use. However, previous generations may actually have a point with today’s high school students. At least in the common perception of the general public, high school students and drug use are trending up with no indication of reversing itself. Media talking heads play up the point for shock value. However, is this amateur assessment actually true?

Official Reports of High School Drug Use

The Monitoring the Future program is the official assessment of drug use among high school students. Each year, this program takes a survey of drug use among eighth grade, 10th grade, and 12th-grade students. The study is looking for use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs in the children. Most of the statistics that media use in order to expound an opinion come from Monitoring the Future data and analysis.

What Did the Latest Reports Show?

The latest Monitoring the Future reports showed an overall increase in drug use among surveyed students. This increased drug use has marijuana to blame, as the increasing popularity of weed, as well as its legalization in some states, have inspired younger kids to use it. Most shockingly, almost 7% of high school seniors use marijuana recreationally on a daily basis. Overall, the trend for marijuana use has completely reversed itself from the 1990s and late 2000s, when it was actually in decline.
Surprisingly, only the use of “natural” marijuana was up among teams. Synthetic creations, known as Spice or K2, are not seen as safe by high school students. The compounds in this product are the same that are in a drug known as “bath salts.” As such, although the compounds are actually legal to obtain, the product is used much less than natural marijuana. Less than 1% of 12th graders use synthetic marijuana.

Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications

The real problem with teenagers lies in the medicine cabinets of their parents rather than any illicit street drugs. Prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs are a much larger problem than any illegal product when it comes to high school drug use.

Part of the reason for this is that prescription and over-the-counter medications are easier for kids to obtain. Most of them have only to look in the medicine cabinets of the homes that they live in to get high. Interestingly enough, some surveys have shown that an increase in parent stress levels will increase the likelihood that their children use drugs. As parents take more prescription medication for conditions such as social anxiety, muscle and joint tension and other stress-related problems, those medications invariably find their way into the hands of children.

Drugs such as Ritalin and Vicodin were among the most abused prescription medications in the recent Monitoring the Future surveys.Fortunately, the trend for these drugs is down among all grade levels. However, use of the drug Adderall has increased over the past year among these same kids. Adderall is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a condition that is being diagnosed much more readily than ever before. Many of the teams that abuse Adderall is simply overdosing on a prescription for recreational purposes. Overall, abuse of this drug is up around 2% to 7.4% of 12th graders in the latest Monitoring the Future survey.

The Trends

Ease of access and perception seem to be the two main factors in determining the abuse of drugs in high school students. This makes sense when one considers how impressionable this age group is to advertising and other forms of media. If something is being popularized in the general culture, it is likely that high school students will feel the effects much more readily than the rest of society.

It is also highly evident that more medications in the home mean a higher rate of drug abuse. More stress within the family structure means more medications at home. In order to keep children away from drugs, parents would be well advised to handle their problems without strong prescription medications or to practice safe storage of these substances to keep them out of the hands of their teens.  Parents should familiarize themselves with the facts about high school students and drug use so they are prepared to intervene for their teen, if necessary.

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