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Teen Girls Becoming More Open to Drugs, Alcohol

By Ellin Holohan
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, June 29 (HealthDay News) -- American teenage girls may be more receptive to using alcohol and taking drugs than in years past, a new report says.

Girls appear more inclined than ever to reach for drugs and booze to help them emotionally, according to a survey by the nonprofit Partnership for a Drug Free America. For example, the 2009 survey of high school students found 53 percent of girls agreeing with the notion that drugs "help you forget your troubles," up from 48 percent in 2008.

The survey, which examines changes in substance use and attitudes, found the use of alcohol and marijuana jumped considerably more among girls than boys between 2008-2009.

Also, fewer teen girls than a year earlier frowned on illegal drug use by their friends, and fewer considered the "party" drug ecstasy addictive, the study found.

"There's been a change in the culture," said Dr. Marc Galanter, director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse at the New York University's Langone Medical Center in New York City. He was not involved with the study.

"Women previously had more constrained roles in terms of the propriety of indulging in behaviors such as public intoxication and the like. Now with women in the workforce and becoming more liberated, they are not so constrained," he said.

According to the research, supported by the MetLife Foundation, use of alcohol by girls increased 11 percent but not significantly among boys. However, while more girls (59 percent) than boys (52 percent) drink alcohol, boys still use more illegal drugs than girls do.

Among the nearly 3,300 teens from private, public and parochial high schools included in the survey, 81 percent of girls reported seeing drugs as a way to handle school stress, versus 75 percent of boys.

"It's really another sign of a changing landscape in America," said Steve Pasierb, the Partnership's president and CEO. "Drug use has become tactical ... kids say 'I'm doing this to manage my life, to escape the pressures in school, to deal with stress.'"

The study cited previous research finding three times as many girls as boys reporting depression in 2008. Parents should be especially attentive to their daughters' moods and worries, Pasierb said.

The changes occurring now may "have a big impact on strategies and prevention efforts that will need to be taken," Galanter added.

Pasierb believes that drug use is rising, in part, because schools have fallen down on drug education as a result of budget cuts and a focus on testing.

Also, he said parents have not been keeping up with shifts in teens' attitudes.

Many parents may view things through the memories of their own youth when teens experimented with drugs, "maybe got drunk on occasion, but basically grew up and turned out okay," said Pasierb.

Today's teen drug abusers are not just the slacker teens, but also the "over-programmed teens -- straight-A students who are driven," said Pasierb. This highly motivated group says, "I'm going to get into Yale, but I'm going to need a little Ritalin, and maybe get drunk once in awhile," he noted.

Drug use now stems more from a pursuit of life-management strategies rather than the rebelliousness of the past, he added.

Prescription drugs are also a serious problem, Pasierb said. One out of five teens admits using prescription drugs not prescribed for them, with the family medical cabinet the most likely source, he added.

According to the research, use of the drug ecstasy rose for both boys (7 to 11 percent) and girls (5 to 8 percent. Recreational use was cited by 41 percent of boys, compared to 32 percent of girls.

Marijuana use increased during the same period for boys (34 to 39 percent) and for girls (28 to 36 percent).

The percentage of girls who thought ecstasy was addictive declined from 82 to 77 percent compared with a 2 percent decline in boys (70 to 68 percent).

Only 33 percent of teen girls said they don't want to hang around drug users - a drop from 38 percent in 2008.

To head off drug abuse, Galanter said parents need to foster an "open relationship with their kids, to talk with them and find out what they're doing" because kids whose parents talk to them about drug use are more likely to resist it.

For parents reluctant to discuss the issue, the Partnership's Web site offers tools and information to help parents talk to their teens, said Pasierb.

He offered this advice to parents: "Don't write it (drug use) off as a youthful indiscretion. We know that parents can have a big impact and that the earlier the intervention, the better the results."

More information

To learn more about teens and drugs, head to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

SOURCES: Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America; Dr. Marc Galanter, director, division of alcohol and drug abuse, and professor of psychiatry, department of psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine The Partnership/MetLife Attitude Tracking Study, 2010

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