Substance use in adolescents

The use of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol by young people is a topic that causes concern for parents and adults

A few weeks ago, my colleague Eryn Wicker wrote about the McCreary report findings regarding adolescent’s mental health. The McCreary Centre Society is a non-profit organization that collects data from adolescents in BC on a wide range of topics in health and well-being. The use of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol by young people is a topic that causes concern for parents and adults and can have negative short-term and long-term implications.

Alcohol is the substance most commonly used by young people. The use of alcohol has come down from 56 per cent of teenagers surveyed in 1998 to 52 per cent in 2008. This still means that over half of youth have engaged in more than a few sips of alcohol in the last year. Generally, the younger a person begins using a substance, the more likely he or she is to use it in greater amounts or to abuse it later on. The trend seems to be that fewer kids are drinking at age 13 (34 per cent in 2003 to 29 per cent in 2008) and age 15 (64 per cent in 2003, 58 per cent in 2008). But, it’s still a concerning number of young people who are using alcohol at young ages.

The next most frequently used substance is marijuana (37 per cent in 2003 down to 30 per cent in 2008) and while less than previously is still a large proportion of young people. The use of cocaine, (five per cent in 2003 down to four per cent in 2008), amphetamines (four per cent in 2003 down to two per cent in 2008), and mushrooms (13 per cent in 2003 down to eight per cent in 2008) have been marginally decreasing in BC since 1998. Also, the McCreary Centre reported that fewer students have tried smoking over the last ten years. In 1998 over half of respondents had tried it, and in 2008 it was down to 22 per cent.

We all prefer fewer young people engage in substance use. Unfortunately, there has been an increase in use of prescription drugs without a prescription (up to 15 per cent in 2008 from nine per cent in 2003). Also concerning are the negative consequences young people report after substance use. Amongst young people who used drugs or alcohol over the past year, 35 per cent of males, and 46 per cent of females, were told they did something that they didn’t remember and approximately 30 per cent passed out. The potential for harm in these situations is easily imagined.

For more information, the McCreary Centre Society website contains the 2008 BC Adolescent Health Survey in it’s entirety. Although our community has previously opted out of participating in this survey it is still valuable in understanding the trends of substances young people are using.

Research collected by the Centre for Addictions Research suggests that the best way to prevent substance use/abuse is to promote the overall well-being of young people. Look for opportunities for young people to feel good about themselves, to be successful in school, and to be contributing and valued members of the community.

Marie Amos, MA, RCC, is a Mental Health Therapist with Child and Youth Mental Health of MCFD, Chilliwack.