How drugs have changed over the last 20 years

Psychologist Michael Dennis, PhD, explains how drug and alcohol use in teenagers has changed over the last twenty years, and how drugs and alcohol used by teens has also changed
How Teen Drug & Alcohol Has Changed Over The Last 20 years
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How drugs have changed over the last 20 years

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It is very important for parents to understand that the drugs that their teens are using today are not necessarily the ones that they grew up with. Between 1990 and 1997, the purity of marijuana in federal drug seizures went up four fold. The size of the joint that the kids were using increased by four fold. So they are getting about 16 times more THC per joint than what their parents may have used 20, 30 years ago. This is not really the same substance anymore. You see the same thing with alcohol. Alcohol went from primarily being marketed to adults to the combination of alcohol with energy drinks and other kinds of sugar and caffeinated drinks that you don´t even taste the alcohol. It is vodka or another pure alcohol where the flavor is not there and they are slugging it like it is soda but in fact they are consuming very large quantities of alcohol. And the combination of caffeine, sugar and alcohol is extremely hard on the body and even can lead to seizures or heart problems in a certain percentage of the kids. So they are very, very dangerous. A third area where we have seen a big change is pharmaceutical drugs, particularly pain killers. There has been a dramatic rise in the United States. The availability of pain pills has gone up thousands of percent over the last 15 to 20 years. It was relatively unusual to see pain pills out in the community in say the 1970s. But now you have almost one in four kids accessing pain pills and trying them at some point in high school. That is a big seed change. Worse, kids´use is very much related to their perceived risk. When they perceive risk, they are less likely to use it. But they say these are medications. They advertise them on TV. Surely they must be safe and so they think popping some pills is not going to be dangerous because it is a medication. And they are saying it is safe in spite of all those warnings on the label and on the commercial.

Psychologist Michael Dennis, PhD, explains how drug and alcohol use in teenagers has changed over the last twenty years, and how drugs and alcohol used by teens has also changed

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Michael Dennis, PhD

Psychologist

Michael Dennis, PhD, is a senior research psychologist and Director of the Global Appraisal of Individual Needs (GAIN) coordinating center at Chestnut Health Systems in Normal, Illinois. Over the past 25 years his primary area of research has been to better understand and manage addiction and recovery over the life course. This includes multiple clinical trials to compare the effectiveness of adolescent treatment approaches and recovery support services, longitudinal studies with adolescents, adults and older adults to understand the predictors of entering and sustaining recovery, and creating the Global Appraisal of Individual Needs (GAIN) coordinating center for teaching evidenced based assessment to support clinical decision making at the individual level and program evaluation. He has multiple awards for moving the field from science to practice, promoting diversity through practice based evidence and bringing more people into the field.

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