Substance abuse has always had a constant presence in American culture but was never seen in the limelight. The society has always talked down on its victims and tried to shield the youth away. According to research, throughout the past four generations, every generation had addiction problems and this shielding process hasn’t helped. The youth and parents should be informed about the risks of substance abuse and schools should be taking on a larger role, instead of shying away from the problem. Since using substances at a young age can increase your risks of being addicted later on in life and change your brain structure, which can lead to triggering mental disorders, disabilities, and health problems. Not to mention the glorification of substances in the media has led to the youth normalizing them. Substances throughout the years have been incorporated more and more into our culture. In the past four generations, Millennials have been close to first in use of every substance and normalizing has done nothing but worsen the problem.
Understanding substance abuse and its causes are one of the main problems of this issue. Most people if not involved tend to tune out information and think of addicts as outsiders. When people think about substance abuse or drug addiction, in general, most people try to stereotype but in recent times, substances have been normality for the population and especially the youth. People that look sober could be abusing substance in their life. Their substance of choice could range from illegal drugs to substances like alcohol and tobacco. Their choice completely depends on the user. Some people abuse substances for their enjoyment, some abuse for what they have gone through in life, and some do it for both reasons. These reasons can go as in-depth as the consumer’s gender. For example, Marijuana is used more by males and this goes for most other addictive drugs. Similar to other addictive drugs, fewer females than males use marijuana.(Substance use in Women 2018) Another example of this can be seen in women. They are more likely to use prescription pills than men. A couple of reasons for this can be that women go through more pain than men. -women may be more likely to take prescription opioids without a prescription to cope with pain,-(Substance use in Women 2018) Women also have more access to prescription drugs -because women are also more at risk than men for anxiety and insomnia, it is possible that women are being prescribed more of these types of medications;(Substance use in Women 2018) Just like we’ve mentioned earlier their experiences could lead to them to abusing substances. An example of this can be seen in a specific study done on teenagers stating that -male high school students who smoke marijuana reported poor family relationships and problems at school-(Substance use in Women 2018). Going through trauma during their childhood can also lead to them abusing substances.
The risks of substance abuse increase drastically for adolescents before their mid-20s because of the probable influences of that substance having on their developing brain. Recent research has indicated that adolescent substance users show abnormalities on measures of brain functioning, which is linked to changes in neurocognition over time.(Squeglia 2009) They have also stated that Substance abuse during this time can have impacts on hippocampal volume, prefrontal cortex volume, white matter volume, and its quality, and brain blood flow. (Squeglia 2009) Adolescents abusing substances can also have different changes in brain function and structure. For example, -heavy drinking during adolescence can lead to a decreased performance on cognitive tasks of memory, attention, spatial skills, and executive functioning.(Squeglia 2009) Not only affecting performance but also embedding that substance into the brain. Studies have also shown changes similar to heavy drinking with the use of Marijuana which is one of the top substances being used by the youth. All of these changes can differ from user to user according to their genetics, environment, amount of use, etc. One thing certain is that substance using adolescents differ from non-substance users. In areas such as neuropsychological performance, brain tissue volume, white matter integrity, and functional brain response.(Squeglia 2009)
Substance abuse on top of changing the user’s brain structure can expose the user to other mental disabilities and health problems. For example, tobacco smoke can cause many cancers, methamphetamine can cause severe dental problems, and that opioids can lead to overdose and death.(Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction 2018) Substance use and mental disabilities can in some cases coincide. In some cases, mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia may come before addiction; in other cases, drug use may trigger or worsen those mental conditions,-(Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction 2018) Some users end up taking these substances to reduce the symptoms of their illnesses which worsen their mental disorder in the long run. The National Bureau of Economic Research states that -mental health disorder patients are responsible for the consumption of: 38 percent of alcohol 44 percent of cocaine 40 percent of cigarettes.(The Connection Between Mental Illness and Substance Abuse 2018) There is an obvious relation between substance abuse and mental health disorders and any combination of the two can develop with their own causes and symptoms. The most common issue is because people try to self medicate. For example, people self-medicate for reasons such as depression The depressed patient who uses marijuana to numb the pain.(The Connection Between Mental Illness and Substance Abuse 2018) or for having low energy The patient with low energy and lack of motivation who takes Adderall, cocaine or crystal meth to increase their drive to get things done.(The Connection Between Mental Illness and Substance Abuse 2018) Although these can be seen as temporary fixes, using substances only leads to more problems.
Adolescents being influenced into drug abuse can also be seen in many examples. In an excerpt from Improving Cultural Competence. The author talks about a college student living in San Diego who is being sent to treatment. The student named Lisa talks about her use of substances starting at the age of 15 with Marijuana. The use of this substance started, she states In her first year of high school,-(Improving Cultural Competence 2014) because -she had difficulty fitting in.(Improving Cultural Competence 2014) This goes along with substance use being correlated to something happening in their life. In this example, Lisa uses Marijuana because she is having trouble fitting in with others. As the excerpt continues we figure out that Lisa moves onto ecstasy when introduced to it by her new found friends. This shows the influence of others and the influence of the surrounding culture. Lisa during her treatment states, -that she has long felt neglected by her parents, who are too interested in material things. She sees her drug use and that of her friends as a rebellion-(Improving Cultural Competence 2014) This is another example of a problem in her life that causes her to turn to substances. Lisa’s family neglecting her and favoring materialistic things turns her to cope with that problem by using substances. Lisa also does not believe that she has a problem which is an issue most users face. Surveys which were done through 2005 to 2008 by a national survey show that about 95 percent of people needing treatment thought that they did not need it.
During this generation, the media has also played a big role in not only influencing but also glorifying and normalizing substances to the youth. These influences have come from music to social media to advertisements and branches out to many more outlets. For example, rap music since the 1980s had rappers mention substances in their music. A study done by the University of California, Berkley points out that these mentions had risen over time from 1979 to 1997. About 19 percent of songs in the late 1980s made references to substance abuse while during the 1990s, the percentage was up to 69 percent. These mentions only influenced adolescents, creating motivational factors to be like the rappers. Alcohol also was another substance being used heavily in music which also had influence. ‘The music does not cause teens to drink, but it can influence them to do so,’ said Beeson.(Gonzales 2017) who is a licensed professional counsel for Northwestern University. These mentions don’t only influence but create a culture around their music. Nowadays, the mentions of substance abuse in a rap have declined but another genre has risen. Research done by Addictions.com states that country ranked first with an average of 1.6 drug mentions per song. Rap came in last with less than 1 mention on average,-(Scaccia 2017) Music although playing one of the key roles isn’t the only part of media influencing adolescents.
Advertisements of alcohol and tobacco also play a big role in influencing the youth. More than $25 billion per year is spent on advertising for tobacco, alcohol, and prescription drugs, and such advertising has been shown to be effective.(Pediatrics 2010) Having advertisements on products like tobacco and alcohol normalize activities like drinking and smoking. Research reveals that advertising may be responsible for up to 30% of adolescent tobacco and alcohol use.(Pediatrics 2010) Tobacco being one of the top dogs spends an estimated $15 billion per year on advertising. The industry since the 60s had their own agenda to attract underage smokers and since then it has worked. For example, Given the demographics of smokers, half of them had started smoking by the age of 13 and the rest by the age of 19.(Pediatrics 2010) According to 2009 Monitoring the Future study, nearly half of all teenagers have tried smoking, as have 20% of all 8th-graders.(Pediatrics 2010) These advertisements rationalize smoking by showing its users as young, healthy, and adventurous. Since the ban on cigarette commercials on Television, teen magazines have the most of the advertisers. Nowadays, tobacco can also be seen in vape form and is being advertised on social media. Alcohol also being another behemoth in advertising spends roughly around $6 billion annually. It’s advertisements similar to tobacco, shows young people have the time of their lives. Unlike the tobacco industry, alcohol can run commercials on Television and much of the advertising is done while teenager specific shows and sports are on air. Currently, teenagers are 400 times more likely to see an alcohol ad than to see a public service announcement (PSA)-(Pediatrics 2010)
Now knowing substance abuse, its dangers, and its glorification in the media, we can look at why our attempts at solving this issue have failed. Most media-based efforts are campaigns which never base their message on established theories but only the obvious answers. Most campaigns are often manipulative and use fear-based appeals, which make unrealistic threats while successful media campaigns do the opposite. They always base their campaigns off of established theories of persuasion, and not common sense. They are usually using subtle messages, often appealing to parents and trying to involve larger efforts made by communities and schools. For example, The Parents campaign was one of the most successful campaigns that adolescent drug abuse had seen. This campaign was a smaller scale national campaign which informed the parents and made them monitor children more closely. Campaigns which are more about the users tend to work better than ones which aren’t. Campaigns instead of telling users to Just say no they need to be more personal with the issue. Adolescent substance abuse needs to have efforts made by not only the campaigns but large communities for them. A change in culture needs to happen, and everyone needs to be informed and mainly accept this problem.
Substance abuse has always been a part of American culture throughout history. Every generation with its own set of problems. One thing they all have in common is the lack of knowledge. The youth and parents need to be informed about substance abuse in general, and schools need to take a bigger role. Since using substances at a young age can increase the user’s risks of becoming addicted, and triggering mental disorders, disabilities, and health problems, adolescents need to be prevented from using substances. The glorification in the media needs to be toned down and come with information.
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