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Addiction Starts Early in American Society, Report Finds
Date:6/29/2011

WEDNESDAY, June 29 (HealthDay News) -- A new study reveals that 90 percent of Americans who are addicted to tobacco, alcohol or other substances started smoking, drinking or using drugs before they were 18 years old.

The study also found that one-quarter of Americans who began using any addictive substance before age 18 are addicted, compared with one in 25 Americans who started using an addictive substance when they were 21 or older.

And nearly half of American high school students now smoke, drink or use other drugs, according to the researchers at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

They said their findings show that adolescence is the most important period of life for the start of substance abuse and its consequences.

"Addiction is a disease that in most cases begins in adolescence, so preventing or delaying teens from using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs for as long as possible is crucial to their health and safety," Susan Foster, CASA's vice president and director of policy research and analysis, said in a CASA news release. "We rightfully worry about other teen health problems like obesity, depression or bullying, but we turn a blind eye to a more common and deadly epidemic that we can in fact prevent."

In teenagers, the brain is not fully developed, increasing the chances that they'll take risks, including using addictive substances that hamper brain development, impair judgment and increase the risk of addiction, the study authors explained.

The investigators found that 75 percent (10 million) of all U.S. high school students have used addictive substances such as tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or cocaine, and that 20 percent of these students meet the medical criteria for addiction. Currently, 46 percent (6.1 million) of all U.S. high school students use addictive substances and one-third of them meet the medical criteria for addiction.

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