Teens Using Drugs to Cope with Stress, Parents Underestimating Pressures

NEW YORK, NY – A new study released by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America reveals a troubling new insight into the reasons why teens use drugs. According to the 2007 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study of 6,511 teens (PATS Teens), the number one reason teens see for using drugs is to deal with the pressures and stress of school. In this nationally projectable study (margin of error +/- 1.6 percent), 73 percent of teens reported that school stress is the primary reason for drug use, indicating that teens’ perceptions of motivating factors for using drugs are dramatically different than past research has indicated.
Deep Disconnect Between Teen Behavior and Parental Awareness
An accompanying 2007 Partnership study of parents’ attitudes about teen drug use, released in June, showed that parents severely underestimate the impact of stress on their teens’ decision to use drugs. Only 7 percent of parents believe that teens might use drugs to cope with stress.
“A wide disconnect exists between what teens are thinking and feeling and what parents believe about their teens when it comes to attitudes about drug use,” said Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the Partnership. “This is a pivotal opportunity for parents to understand what motivates today’s teens to engage in this type of risky behavior, and to communicate the very real dangers and risks, while offering their kids support and guidance on dealing with pressure in a healthy way.”
In previous PATS Teens studies, when teen respondents were asked to select from a number of reasons for using drugs, the number one reason (65 percent) selected was to “feel cool.” The 2007 study was the first to offer the option of selecting school stress as a motivator, one which nearly 3 out of 4 teens (73 percent) strongly agreed with. This was followed closely by “feeling cool” (65 percent) and “feeling better about themselves” (65 percent).
Over the past decade, studies have indicated a steady changing trend in what teens perceive as the motivations for using drugs. The “to have fun” rationales are declining, while motivations to use drugs to solve problems are increasing.
Overall Teen Drug Use Declining; Prescription Drug Abuse Disturbingly High Among Nation’s Youth
The 2007 PATS Teens study confirms that overall substance abuse remains in steady decline among teens. Marijuana use is in its tenth consecutive year of decline, down 30 percent since 1998 alone. Teen use of Ecstasy, inhalants and methamphetamine has continued a multi-year, significant decline, and use of both alcohol and cigarettes continue to decrease.
Teens’ ongoing intentional abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medications remains a serious concern, as many teens mistakenly believe the abuse of medicines is less dangerous than abuse of illegal drugs.
According to the survey:
• 1 in 5 teens (4.4 million) has abused a prescription medication,
• Nearly 1 in 5 teens (4.2 million) has already abused a prescription painkiller,
• 41 percent of teens think it’s safer to abuse a prescription drug than it is to use illegal drugs.
“Teens continue to take their lives into their own hands when they intentionally abuse prescribed medications, said Pasierb. “Whether it’s to get high or deal with stress, or if they mistakenly believe it will help them perform better in school or sports, teens don’t realize that when used without a prescription, these medicines can be every bit as harmful as illegal street drugs.”
Source Press Release. Partnership for a Drug Free America. Aug. 2008

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