Unsafe driving was among the more alarming findings reported by teenagers who drink alcohol and smoke marijuana, say New York University researchers studying the harms associated with adolescent substance use.
Significant numbers of American teenagers consume alcohol and/or marijuana, two of the three most popular recreational substances in the U.S. Use of either of these substances can produce markedly negative personal, social, work-related or school-related outcomes for people in this age group. In a study published in August 2014 in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, researchers from several branches of New York University sought to identify the specific types of harms most likely to affect teens who use alcohol, as well as the specific types of harms most likely to affect teens who use marijuana.
Teen Alcohol Use
In the U.S., the federal government uses several ongoing projects to track the year-to-year changes in teens’ involvement in alcohol and marijuana consumption, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future (conducted in collaboration with the University of Michigan). Monitoring the Future focuses narrowly on the substance use trends among adolescents enrolled in 8th, 10th and 12th grade. As of September 2014, the latest available figures from this project cover the year 2013.
The Monitoring the Future findings indicate that 39 percent of all 12th-graders consumed alcohol at least once a month in 2013. Tenth-graders had a monthly alcohol consumption rate of 26 percent, while 8th-graders had a monthly consumption rate of 10 percent. A quarter of 12th-graders (26 percent) consumed enough alcohol to get drunk in the average month. Roughly 13 percent of 10th-graders got drunk in the average month, while just 3.5 percent of 8th-graders got drunk. For all three grades, the 2013 figures for monthly alcohol consumption and monthly drunkenness were lower than the figures recorded for 2012. The 2013 figures also recorded lowered consumption rates for flavored alcohol products among all three grades.
Teen Marijuana Use
Nearly 23 percent of all American 12th-graders consumed marijuana (or the much less common cannabis product hashish) at least once a month in 2013, according to the figures compiled by Monitoring the Future. The monthly marijuana/hashish consumption rate among 10th-graders was 18 percent, while the monthly consumption rate among 8th-graders was 7 percent. Compared to 2012, 12th-graders experienced a slight decline in monthly marijuana/hashish use, while both 10th- and 8th-graders experienced a slight increase in monthly use. Approximately 6.5 percent of all 12th-graders used marijuana/hashish every day or almost every day. The rates for daily or near daily use among 10th-and 8th-graders were 4 percent and 1.1 percent, respectively.
In addition to quantifying the number of students involved in various forms of substance use, Monitoring the Future attempts to identify some of the key negative outcomes of this substance use.
In the study published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, the New York University researchers used data gathered from five years of Monitoring the Future (2007 through 2011) to distinguish the negative outcomes of alcohol use among 12th-graders from the negative outcomes of marijuana use among students in the same grade. All of the 7,437 seniors culled from the project had self-reported histories of alcohol intake or marijuana intake. Each of these students detailed his or her negative experiences stemming from the consumption of these substances.
Alcohol’s Consequences In Students
The researchers identified specific negative consequences of 12th-grade alcohol use that included:
- disrupted relationships with peers and romantic partners
- dangerously impaired driving
- feelings of regret in the aftermath of intake
Marijuana’s Consequences In Students
Specific negative consequences associated with marijuana use included:
- disrupted relationships with bosses and teachers
- reduced school achievement
- impaired driving
- reduced workplace achievement
- declining energy levels
- declining enthusiasm for various activities
Broadly speaking, the marijuana-consuming 12th-graders were less likely to self-report negative outcomes than the alcohol-consuming 12th-graders. Groups of seniors likely to report relatively frequent participation in alcohol and marijuana use (as well as relatively high levels of exposure to negative-related consequences) included girls and people with a European American racial/ethnic background.
In addition to the effects of gender and racial/ethnic background, the study’s authors believe that the self-reported harms of alcohol and marijuana use among 12th-graders may be at least partially influenced by the illegal nature of the consumption of these substances, as well as by the amount of shame brought on by participation in illegal acts.
In addition, they believe that campaigns designed to discourage teen alcohol and marijuana use may prove most useful when they specifically address the harms associated with the consumption of each of these substances.
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