When a teenager begins experimenting with drugs or alcohol, this is called early initiation by experts in the substance abuse field. It’s a significant concern because experimentation during adolescence carries additional risks.
Teens who start using alcohol or drugs are at an increased risk for developing addiction by the time they reach young adulthood when compared to individuals who begin experimentation in young adulthood. In addition, there are physical health risks associated with drug and alcohol use, and teens who use the substances expose their bodies to those risks over a longer period of time.
In addition, teens who use drugs or alcohol face the same risks that adult users encounter, but they may be even less able to navigate the consequences. For example, drug and alcohol use is tied to an increased risk of dangerous sexual behaviors. A teen that encounters an unplanned pregnancy may face more difficulties than a young adult that experiences an unplanned pregnancy.
Understanding Trends In Early Substance Use
As a result, it’s important to understand trends in early initiation. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association (SAMHSA) routinely gathers information about drug use across the nation. Broken down into various segments of the population, the information can be used to help policymakers and substance abuse treatment facilities best serve those that require substance abuse treatment.
The information can also help those who shape education and prevention strategies. By understanding which parts of the population are most affected by substance use, there can be accurate targeting for those that would benefit most from education and intervention efforts.
New Statistics On Young People And Substance Use
SAMHSA recently released a report that found in 2011, most of the individuals between the ages of 18 and 30 who were admitted for treatment had begun experimenting with alcohol and drugs before the age of 17. More than 10 percent had begun using substances before the age of 11.
Of those who reported substance use before the age of 11, more than 78 percent indicated that they abused two or more substances at the time of admittance in a treatment program. Among those individuals who began using substances at the age of 25 or older, only about 30 percent reported multiple substances of use. As the age of initiation increased, the less likely a person was to have a problem with multiple substances.
Among individuals that initiated substance use after the age of 25 most were likely to report heroin (more than 35 percent) and prescription pain relievers (more than 33 percent) as their primary substance of abuse.
The rate of mental disorders was high among those with substance use at an early age. A mental disorder was diagnosed in more than 38 percent of those who had used substances by the age of 11.
There were a total of 678,432 substance abuse treatment admissions between the ages of 18 and 30 in which an age of initiation was reported at the time of admission.
There was a specific breakdown in the report of when early initiation occurred. One-third of admissions were between 15 and 17 when they first tried a substance. Another almost 30 percent were between the ages of 12 and 14 when they used a substance, and more than 10 percent initiated before the age of 11. One-quarter of admissions began trying substances as adults over the age of 18.
Gender And Race In Early-Age Substance Abuse Treatment Admissions
There were also differences noted in gender between admissions. The majority of admissions between the ages of 18 and 30 were male, but as the age of initiation went up, the gap was decreased between the genders.
The largest number of admissions was non-Hispanic White, making up almost 65 percent of those initiating use at the age of 11 or younger, and nearly 75 percent of those initiating at the age of 25 or older.
The findings highlight the importance of preventing early initiation. Teens who begin using substances are more likely to become addicted, to report use of multiple substances, and to require treatment by the time they reach adulthood.