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Parenting may be factor in decline of alcohol and drug abuse in American teens
America's teens are smoking and drinking less as well as consuming few drugs, according to an annual survey measuring teen substance abuse in the U.S., and some experts credit effective parenting for the decline. - photo by Seth Olson
America's teens are smoking and drinking less as well as consuming few drugs, according to an annual survey measuring teen substance abuse in the U.S., and some experts credit effective parenting for the decline.

The latest Monitoring the Future survey published in December by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research is a compilation of measurements of drug use and attitudes among 8th, 10th and 12th graders that reflect changing behaviors and choices, compared to the generations of teens before them.

This year's survey sampled 45,473 students from 372 public and private schools who reported their drug use behaviors over a lifetime, the past year and the past month. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, has funded the survey since it started in 1975.

Alcohol use among teens in 2016 is at its lowest level ever, at 37 percent. This is down significantly from 2001, when 53 percent of high school seniors admitted to having been drunk at least once.

Binge drinking classified by NIDA as five or more drinks in a row among high school seniors is down to 15.5 percent, down by half from its peak 31.5 percent in 1998.

Meanwhile, use of illicit drugs other than marijuana in the past year is down from recent peaks in all three grades, according to the NIH news release.

While some experts have characterized the non-medical use of prescription opioids as an epidemic among adults, teen use of prescription opioids in 2016 is trending downward. Among 12th graders, the opioid abuse saw a 45 percent drop in past year use compared to five years ago. Only 2.9 percent of seniors reported past year misuse of the pain reliever Vicodin in 2016, compared to nearly 10 percent a decade ago.

Smoking numbers have also dropped off significantly, with only 10.5 percent of high school seniors reporting any smoking in the past month. Nearly 11 percent of seniors smoked a half pack or more of cigarettes a day in 1991, when MTF first measured cigarette smoking. In 2016, only 1.8 percent admitted to smoking that much.

While more of today's teens have resorted to e-cigarettes instead of tobacco, even those numbers are down, from 16 percent last year to 12 percent this year.

This year's MTF report continues a consistent, long-term decline in the use of many alcohol and illicit substances, including marijuana, as well as alcohol, tobacco, and misuse of some prescription medications.

Clearly our public health prevention efforts, as well as policy changes to reduce availability, are working to reduce teen drug use, especially among eighth graders, said Dr. Nora D. Volkow, a psychiatrist and director of NIDA. However, when 6 percent of high school seniors are using marijuana daily, and new synthetics are continually flooding the illegal marketplace, we cannot be complacent."

What's behind the decline

The University of Michigan's Lloyd Johnston, who has led the survey since it started in 1975, and other experts believe that a decline in smoking may be largely responsible for the broader decline, according to USA Today. For young teens, smoking is a gateway to other illicit activities, and by cutting smoking rates, fewer adolescents are moving on to alcohol and drugs, said Johnston.

Volkow suggested social media may also play a role in the decline, but more research into that connection is needed.

"We also need to learn more about how teens interact with each other in this social media era, and how those behaviors affect substance use rates," Volkow said.

Others attribute some of the decline in substance use among teens to effective parenting.

On the whole, the kids are all right over the last couple of decades, drug policy researcher at Carnegie Mellon University Jonathon Caulkins told USA Today. Anecdotally in my life, Id say that relationships between todays teens and their parents are also better than in past generations.

Family Checkup Program

NIDA says it has supported research that has shown parents play an important role in whether children start using drugs.

The Child and Family Center at the University of Oregon, a program that has worked extensively to highlight parenting skills that are important in preventing the initiation and progression of drug use among youth, has developed a program to help parents develop skills that can prevent their children from initiating or continuing drug use.

NIDA recreated the program on its website. The program uses five questions to "highlight parenting skills that are important in preventing the initiation and progression of drug use among youth," NIDA explained. "For each question, a video clip shows positive and negative examples of the skill, and additional videos and information are provided to help you practice positive parenting skills."

1. Are you able to communicate with your teenager?

Family Checkup says that by "developing good communication skills, parents catch problems early, support positive behavior, and stay aware of what is happening in their childrens lives."

2. Do you encourage positive behaviors?

By using consistent encouragement, Family Checkup says, "teens begin to feel good about themselves while building confidence so they can try new activities, develop new friendships, explore their creativity and tackle difficult tasks. Encouragement also helps parents promote cooperation and reduce conflict."

3. Are you able to negotiate emotional conflicts?

Negotiating solutions offers parents a way to work together with their children to solve problems, according to Family Checkup.

4. Are you able to set limits?

"Setting limits helps parents teach self-control and responsibility, show caring, and provide safe boundaries. It also provides youth with guidelines and teaches them that following rules is important for their success in life," Family Checkup says.

5. Do you know your teenager's friends and peers?

Family Checkup says that "youth tend to be uncertain about themselves and how they fit in, they can feel overwhelmed by a need to please and impress their friends. These feelings can leave children open to peer pressure. Knowing your childs friends and peers helps parents improve communication, reduce conflict, and teach responsibility."
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