Teen alcohol, marijuana use on rise

Finding reverses decade of decline in annual surveys

By Jennifer C. Kerr
Associated Press / March 2, 2010

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WASHINGTON - Alcohol and marijuana use among teens is on the rise, ending a decade-long decline, a study being released today found.

“I’m a little worried that we may be seeing the leading edge of a trend here,’’ said Sean Clarkin, director of strategy at The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which was releasing the study. “Historically, you do see the increase in recreational drugs before you see increases in some of the harder drugs.’’

The annual survey found the number of teens in grades 9 through 12 who reported drinking alcohol in the last month rose 11 percent last year, with 39 percent - about 6.5 million teens - reporting alcohol use. That’s up from 35 percent, or about 5.8 million teens, in 2008.

For marijuana, 25 percent of teens reported smoking marijuana in the last month, up from 19 percent.

Until last year, those measures for marijuana and alcohol use had been on a steady decline since 1998, when use hovered around 50 percent of teens for alcohol and 27 percent for marijuana.

The study also found use of the party drug Ecstacy on the rise. Six percent of teens surveyed said they used Ecstacy in the past month, compared with 4 percent in 2008.

Parents who suspect their teens are using need to act quickly, Clarkin said. Monitor them more closely, talk with them about drugs, set rules, and consult a counselor, doctor, clergy, or other resource, he said.

The researchers asked teens how they felt about doing drugs or about friends who did them. The study found a higher percentage of teens than in the previous year agreed that being high feels good; more teens reported having friends who usually get high at parties; and fewer teens said they wouldn’t want to hang around with youths who smoked marijuana.

Stacy Laskin, now 21 and a senior in college, said marijuana was everywhere during her high school years. Laskin said she tried pot and drank alcohol in high school but did not make it a habit like some of her peers.

“The behavior I saw people go through - and to see how far people can fall - really turned me away more than anything else,’’ Laskin said in an interview.

Her close friend from high school died in 2008 from a heroin overdose. Laskin, a psychology major at Salisbury University in Maryland, was so torn by the death that she decided to help others and is working on her second internship at a drug treatment center. “Just seeing the negative impact made me want to get involved,’’ she said.

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