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"Once again, we are reminded that in most instances experimentation with alcohol and drugs begins during adolescence," said Bruce Goldman, director of Substance Abuse Services at The Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.
"Unfortunately, many youth are at risk of developing abuse and dependency problems due to factors including genetic predisposition, environmental availability, school difficulties, social/family problems and co-occurring psychiatric or behavioral disorders," added Goldman, who was not involved in the new study.
In the study, Joel Swendsen, of the University of Bordeaux in France, and colleagues analyzed data from a U.S. survey of more than 10,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 18. They found that more than 78 percent of the oldest teens had consumed alcohol, about 47 percent consumed at least 12 drinks a year, and about 15 percent met the criteria for alcohol abuse.
The study also found that 81.4 percent of the oldest teens reported the opportunity to use illicit drugs, 42.5 percent used drugs, and 16.4 percent were drug abusers.
"Because the early onset of substance use is a significant predictor of substance use behavior and disorders in a lifespan, the public health implications of the current findings are far-reaching," the team wrote in the April issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.
More must be done to make sure youth don't start out early on the road to substance abuse, Goldman said.
"It is imperative that families, schools, police, youth groups, and communities all join together to prevent or delay the onset of substance use as long as possible," he said. "Social norms have a very powerful impact on drug-use patterns. We need to create norms where substance use and availability, especially for young people, is not acceptable."
That means giving young people the resources to fight back, Goldman added. "Effective early intervention needs to be universally available to youth that are found to be using substance," he said.
-- Robert Preidt
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