According to studies performed by CASA Columbia University (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse) about teenagers and substance abuse in the United States, almost ninety percent of those meeting the medical standards of addiction began using drugs before they turned eighteen. The media’s impact on drug abuse, through advertising and other cultural messages, is usually cited by those in treatment as a conduit to addiction.
CASA’s report says that American culture as defined by the media greatly increases a teen’s risk of trying addictive drugs and substances. When combined with other factors of encouragement, including parents’ or friends’ use at home or school, advertising and media depictions of drug use is seen as either a neutral, relaxing, fun, or attractive habit. For example, portrayals of young people using alcohol, prescription drugs, or marijuana in movies and videos directly undermines the health futures of young people.
Addiction By the Numbers
Almost half of children eighteen or younger (about thirty-four plus million) have a parent or other older role model who smokes, drinks, misuses controlled medicines, or outright illegal drugs, according to CASA. Addiction issues tend to run in families; there may be a known genetic predisposition to alcoholism or drug use. If the young teen has previously experienced trauma, he or she has an even higher probability of drug use or addiction.
- Researchers say that individuals who avoid addictive drugs and substances until they’re at least twenty-one are statistically unlikely to start abusing these substances. That’s one of the important reasons for parents to supervise what kinds of movies, videos, music, and other media the young person watches or listens to.
- A close family member or friend who uses addictive substances may convince a younger person that drug use is no big deal; about twenty-one percent of young people in the study report that marijuana is “harmless.”
Need for Social Acceptance
More than half of young addicts studied (aged eighteen or younger) said they craved the social acceptance they perceived using drugs or substances with a family member or friend would bestow. They often reported that using some illegal substances might make them look “cool” or associate them with more popular friends.
Cost of Drug Misuse
The cost of underage substance and drug abuse inspired by the media is greater than $1,500 per person in government and municipal funds.
According to the CASA study, about sixty-eight billion dollars results from underage teen drinking and fourteen billion is related to costs associated with substance abuse-related cases tried by the juvenile justice system. In total, federal, state, and local jurisdictions spend about five hundred billion dollars per year managing and adjudicating drug and drug-related matters.
Accidents, Injuries, Unintended Results
Young drug users suffer greater numbers of accidents and injuries, as well as:
- unplanned pregnancies
- serious medical conditions, e.g. asthma, impaired brain function
- serious psychological conditions, e.g. anxiety, depression, psychosis
- reduced educational or achievement levels
- criminal consequences or involvement
“Adolescent Substance Abuse: America’s Number One Public Health Problem” published by Columbia researchers says that adolescents are the individuals most at risk of developing substance abuse-related addiction. They are the most influenced by media depictions of individuals using drugs, alcohol, and illegal substances as a lifestyle choice. CASA says that twenty-five percent of young Americans who begin using drugs before they turn eighteen become addicted (compared to only one in about twenty-five people who start using these substances at twenty-one or later).
Because young addicts are strongly influenced by the media, family, and friends, it’s essential for the media to take more responsibility in how it portrays drug use and addiction in more accurate ways. Then, of course, it is the responsibility of family and friends to encourage proper addiction therapies, such as inpatient treatment.
According to the authors of “What You Always Wanted To Know About Addiction Treatment,” (2012) full recovery from addiction can be a lengthy and challenging process. Inpatient treatments disengage the addict from his or her surroundings and temptations to use drugs or other addictive substances. When used with cognitive behavioral therapy, the addict learns to associate healthy habits with his or her life and future.