Health and Wellness
MYTHS RELATED TO TEEN DRUG AND ALCOHOL USE
At a recent parent support group that I run, the topic of children lying about vaping and drug use came up. At the first experience, parents were greatly saddened, concerned that they could no longer trust their children, and feeling a certain sense of innocence slip by. It was an experience that, not surprisingly, was commonly shared by most. The group came to understand not to take such truth challenged communications personally. When it comes to behaviors teens know they should not engage in, ie, alcohol use, drug use, vaping, excessive gaming, etc, they will not tell the truth. It is important for parents to understand, accept, and expect this, and to remain vigilant to warning signs. Being told what we want to believe feeds our denial needs, and temporarily calms our anxiety, but it is not good in the long run.
For starters, for example, you find marijuana or vaping device in their drawers, or back pack. What is the first thing your child will say to you? “it’s not mine!”. This is a reflexive response, rooted in their DNA, that all kids say. Mark this down: IT IS ALWAYS THEIRS. They are never carrying someone else’s drugs or paraphernalia. When you walk into their room, and catch them smoking marijuana, or vaping, what is the first thing they will say to you? FIRST TIME! It’s the first time I ever used, and you caught me. Of course, when you catch them again, sometime later, you will probably hear: “Oh no! The second time I ever used, and you caught me again”. Of course, almost all the time, this is not true.
What are some of the myths they would like us to believe? Among the most common are;
1. It’s only beer. The reality is that a 12 ounce can of beer, a 6 ounce glass of wine, and a 1 ounce shot of liquor, all have the same amount of alcohol/ethanol content, so that drinking six beers is the alcohol equivalent of 6 shots of vodka.
2. Everyone drinks and uses. It may feel that way, but the reality is that not all teenagers drink alcohol or use drugs. In fact, the data in the South Bay shows that 4% of 7th graders, 25% of 9th graders, and 42% of 11th graders reported using alcohol or drugs in the past 30 days. (interestingly, for 9th and 11th graders, our data is higher than the state averages). In regards to marijuana use, the data shows that 13% of 9th graders and 27% of 11th graders in the South Bay reported using marijuana in the past 30 days. To a child who is experimenting, it may feel like everyone is because they often spend their time with others who are similarly experimenting, but the truth is that not everyone uses.
3. It’s only marijuana. Teens who experiment with marijuana become “experts” in what they perceive as the harmlessness of the substance. They study the internet, and find articles to confirm their biases. I constantly hear things like, “it’s a natural herb and harmless”; “everyone used it in the 60’s and nothing happened”; “it’s not addicting”;“it’s legal, so it can’t be bad for you”.
These are myths. The reality is that marijuana is very dangerous, very harmful, and especially so on the young, developing teenage brain. It interferes with concentration, memory, drive, and motivation. The potency of marijuana today, that is the THC levels, is significantly higher than it was years ago, and therefore more damaging. There are methods which make the potency even greater. (I will go more in depth in a future column on marijuana and the problems related). In our treatment program, for both adults and teens, we see that marijuana is both addicting, and leads to other drug use as well. The notion that it is a harmless, natural substance is a myth.
Knowing the myths surrounding teen age substance use is a major tool in increasing awareness, and being prepared for early intervention when needed.
Remember, if you have issues you would like to see addressed, please email me at email@example.com.
Moe Gelbart, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Thelma McMillen Center