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More Americans are Lighting Up and Inhaling

The use of illicit drugs increased between 2008 and 2010 to 22.6 million Americans (8.9% of population), according to a national survey. This rise was fueled by increased use of marijuana.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) is conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The annual survey tracks the use of illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco in the individuals aged 12 and older.

Illicit Drugs

The survey tracks the use of illicit drugs including marijuana, psychotherapeutics, cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants and heroin. In 2010, marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug. Between 2007 and 2010, the rate increased from 5.8 to 6.9 percent and the number of users increased from 14.4 million to 17.4 million. At the same time, the number of methamphetamine users decreased between 2006 and 2010, from 731,000 (0.3%) to 353,000 (0.1%).

An explanation for the increased use in marijuana is attributed to changes availability. According to Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the U.S., increases are especially prominent in state in which medical marijuana use is legal.

“Emerging research reveals potential links between state laws permitting access to smoked medical marijuana and higher rates of marijuana use,” Kerlikowske said in a statement.

Increased marijuana use is also attributed to changes in attitude. Youths were less likely to perceive great risk for smoking marijuana than for the use of other illicit substances. Consistent with decreasing trends in the perceived risk of marijuana use, the prevalence of use among youths increased between 2008 (6.7%) and 2010 (7.4%).

Other highlights from the survey include:

  • Illicit Drug Use. Adults aged 26 or older were less likely to be current users of illicit drugs than youths aged 12 to 17 or young adults aged 18 to 25. Illicit drug use is lower among college graduates than those with lower levels of education. Illicit drug use is also higher among those unemployed vs. those employed full-time or part-time.

  • Alcohol Use.8% of Americans or 131.3 million people aged 12 or older drink alcohol which is similar to 2009 estimates. 55.3% of current underage drinkers (12 to 20 years) reported their last use of alcohol in someone else’s home and about a third reported using alcohol in their own home. Young adults aged 21 to 25 had the highest rate of alcohol usage (70%) compared with all other age groups. More men than women are current users of alcohol (57.4% vs. 46.5%). The rate of past month usage of alcohol increases with education.

  • Tobacco Use.4% of population or 69.6 million Americans age 12 or older use a tobacco product. This represents a decrease from 2002 when the rate was 30.4%. Twenty-three percent of 58.3 million persons were current cigarette smokers. Cigarette use peaked among persons 21 to 25 (35.8%) and those aged 26 to 29 (36.8%). The rate of tobacco use among youths (12 to 17 years) declined from 15.2% n 2002 to 10.7% in 2010. More men than women use a tobacco product (33.7% vs. 21.5%). Cigarette smoking was less prevalent among adults who were college educated compared with those with less education.

  • First Time Issue Illicit Substance.0 million persons aged 12 or older used an illicit drug for the first time in the past 12 months. This averages to about 8,100 initiates per day. More than 60 percent of these initiates reported that their first drug of use was marijuana. The average age that marijuana was first tried was age 18.4 years.

  • Youth Prevention.5% of youths aged 12 to 17 perceived a great risk of smoking marijuana once or twice a week in 2010 compared with 54.7% in 2007. The majority of youths (89.6%) reported that their parents would strongly disapprove of them trying marijuana. The prevalence of past month use of illicit substances among those youths (12 to 17 years) who participated in prevention programs was not significantly from the prevalence among different from those who did not. Use of illicit substances was lower among youths who reported that their parents always or sometimes engaged in monitoring their behavior compared with youths who parents seldom on ever engaged in such behaviors.

  • Substance Dependence, Abuse & Treatment.1 million Americans or 9.1% of persons 12 and older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol use problem in 2010. Of these, just 2.6 million or 11.2% of those who needed treatment, received treatment at a specialty facility. These numbers were similar to those in 2002.

The Bottom Line

The topic of drug use, especially marijuana, has heightened in the recent years as states look to legalize this substance as a means to increase state coffers.

I find it interesting that some people are adamantly opposed to marijuana because it’s a drug. Yet, they seem to worry less about alcohol. From my perspective, I think alcohol is a far greater public health issue because it’s so widely accepted in our society.

As part of this conversation, the question of whether marijuana is considered a gateway drug is also often brought up. My response? I don’t think so. Instead, I believe that there are gateway people. These individuals abuse illicit substances because they want to reduce anxiety or feel better about themselves. Until their underlying issues are addressed, then their problem of illicit drug use won’t go away.

As this study points out, the initiation of illicit substances occurs at a young age and that prevention messages don’t really work. But, it also demonstrates that parental involvement is very important.

So, if you want to make sure that your kids don’t abuse tobacco, alcohol or drugs, start first by setting a good example. Next, stay involved with your kids and monitor their behavior and actions. Encourage your kids to work at endeavors where they can gain confidence and learn more about themselves. That way, they won’t need illicit substances to make them feel better.

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