What are some of the major problems that adolescents may encounter? They include drug and alcohol abuse, delinquency, adolescent pregnancy, suicide, and eating disorders.
The 1960s and 1970s were a time of marked increases in the use of illicit drugs. During the social and political unrest of those years, many youth turned to marijuana, stimulants, and hallucinogens. Increases in alcohol consumption by adolescents also were noted. More precise data about drug use by adolescents have been collected in recent years. Each year since 1975, Lloyd Johnston, Patrick O'Malley, and Gerald Bachman, working at the Institute of Social Research at the University of Michigan, have carefully monitored drug use by America's high school seniors in a wide range of public and private high schools. From time to time, they also sample the drug use of younger adolescents and adults as well.
In the most recent survey, a downward trend of drug use by adolescents in the first several years of the 1990s was reversed. In 1993, adolescents showed a sharp rise in marijuana use, as well as an increase in the use of stimulants, LSD, and m-halents. An increase in cigarette smoking also occurred. A special concern is the increased use of drugs by young adolescents. Also, it is important to note that adolescents in the United States have the highest rate of drug use among the world's industrialized nations. Let's further examine the use of alcohol and cocaine by adolescents.
Some mornings, 15-year-old Annie was too drunk to go to school. Other days, she'd stop for a couple of beers or a screwdriver on the way to school. She was tall, blonde, and good looking, and no one who sold her liquor, even at 8:00 in the morning, questioned her age. Where did she get her money? She got it from baby-sitting and from what her mother gave her to buy lunch. Annie used to be a cheerleader, but no longer; she was kicked off the squad for missing practice so often. Soon, she and several of her peers were drinking almost ever}' morning. Sometimes, they skipped school and went to the woods to drink. Annie's whole life began to revolve around her drinking. This routine went on for 2 years. After a while, Annie's parents discovered her problem. Even though they punished her, it did not stop her drinking. Finally, this year, Annie started dating a boy she really liked and who would not put up with her drinking. She agreed to go to Alcoholics Anonymous and has just successfully completed treatment. She has abstained from drinking for 4 consecutive months now, and she hopes that her abstinence will continue.
Alcohol is the drug most widely used by adolescents in our society. For them, it has produced many enjoyable moments and many sad ones as well. Alcoholism is the third leading killer in the United States, with more than 13 million people classified as alcoholics, many of whom established their drinking habits during adolescence. Each year, approximately 25,000 people are killed and 1.5 million injured by drunk drivers. In 65 percent of the aggressive male acts against females, the offender is under the influence of alcohol. In numerous instances of drunk driving and assaults on females, the offenders are adolescents.
How extensive is alcohol use by adolescents? Alcohol use by high school seniors has gradually declined. Monthly use declined from 72 percent in 1980 to 51 percent in 1993. The prevalence of drinking five or more drinks in a row in a 2-week interval fell from 41 percent in 1983 to 28 percent in 1993. Figure 12.5 shows the trends in the percentages of students at different grade levels who say they have been drunk in the last year and in the last 30 days. There remains a substantial gender difference in heavy adolescent drinking: 28 percent for females versus 46 percent for males in 1986, although this difference diminished gradually during the 1980s. However, data from college students show little drop in alcohol use and an increase in heavy drinking: 45 percent in 1986, up 2 percent from the previous year. Heavy drinking at parties among college males is common and is becoming more common.
Did you know that cocaine was once an ingredient in Coca-Cola? Of course, it has long since been removed from the soft drink. Cocaine comes from the coca plant, native to Bolivia and Peru. For many years, Bolivians and Peruvians chewed the plant to increase their stamina. Today, cocaine is usually snorted, smoked, or injected in the form of crystals or powder. The effect is a rush of euphoric feelings, which eventually wear off, followed by depressive feelings, lethargy, insomnia, and irritability.
Cocaine is a highly controversial drug. Users claim it is exciting, makes them feel good, and increases their confidence. It is clear, however, that cocaine has potent cardiovascular effects and is potentially addictive. The recent death of sports star Len Bias demonstrates how lethal cocaine can be. When the drug's effects are extreme, it can produce a heart attack, stroke, or brain seizure. The increase in cocaine-related deaths is traced to very pure or tainted forms of the drug.
Cocaine use, which remained at peak levels throughout much of the 1980s, began an important decline in 1987 that continued through 1992 in high school and college students. Among high school seniors, the proportion of cocaine users fell considerably from 1986 to 1993, from 6.2 percent to 1.3 percent. A large proportional drop in use was also observed among college students over the same time interval—from 7 percent to 1.0 percent. A growing proportion of high school seniors and college students are reaching the conclusion that cocaine use holds consider-able, unpredictable risk.