Parents Tend to Underestimate Younger Teens’ Drug and Liquor Habits

A new study from the University of Buffalo found that parents underestimate their younger teens’ drinking and drug habits, although they are more accurate about teens older than 15 years. Parents who are under a lot of stress and who drink themselves are particularly unaware of how often their teens drink or use drugs.

Dr. Neil McGillicuddy and his colleagues interviewed 75 parents and their teenagers over a six-month period. Previous studies looked at teens in substance treatment programs or families with no substance abuse issues. This was the first study of parents under stress because of their teens’ substance abuse, with none enrolled in treatment programs.

Parents caught up in their own issues gave less accurate estimates of their children’s problems. Parents who did not monitor what their teens were doing in their free time after school and on weekends were also more likely to underestimate their children’s use of illicit substances.

This study appears in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse.

Random Drug Tests May Not Deter High School Students from Drugs

A double-bind study of random drug testing among high school athletes surprised researchers by finding that such testing did not necessarily deter drug use.

Dr. Linn Goldberg and his colleagues at the Oregon Health & Science University studied six Oregon high schools that perform random drug tests and five that do not over a two-year period. Athletes in the first group who tested positive for drugs had to attend counseling, and their parents were notified. Students in both groups filled out detailed questionnaires for researchers.

Athletes at schools without drug and alcohol testing were more likely to believe that drug testing was effective, more likely to feel athletically competent, and more likely to believe that their school authorities opposed to drug use compared to those at the schools that had the random drug tests.

“We were shocked by these results,” Dr. Goldberg said.

The study appears in the November issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, the journal of the Society for Adolescent Medicine.

 Adolescents More Likely to Become Addicted and to Need Different Treatments than Adults

New research in human brain development reveals differences between the brains of children, adolescents and adults. Developmental changes in adolescents’ brains may make them more vulnerable to high-risk behaviors, mental illness and addiction, because different parts of the brain mature at different rates.

The research has implications in treatments for teen alcoholism and drug addiction. For example, one study showed that adolescents are more likely to relapse (return to drug use) because their brains maintain drug-related associations much longer than adults. In one animal study at Harvard Medical School, the “teen” animals took 75% more time to give up a cocaine-laden environment than their adult counterparts.

Dr. Heather Brenhouse, the lead researcher in that Harvard study and others, found that teens will resume drug use more quickly than adults, even after they take just a small “reminder” dose of cocaine.

“Drug exposure produces stronger memories for drug-paired cues and contexts than in adults,” Dr. Brenhouse said. “Adolescents appear to hold stronger memories for rewarding events, which may make extinction treatment more difficult and relapse more probable. Therefore, they will require different addiction treatment strategies from adults.”

A spate of new research reports that the effect of marijuana on mental health depends upon when the person starts using it. The younger the person starts, the more likely the person is to become addicted and experience changes in brain function. No one is certain of whether the long-term effects of marijuana use are worse for adolescents or adults.

Dr. Gerry Jager at University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands studied two groups of boys, ages 10 to 18 years old. One group used marijuana, the other did not. He had them perform mental tests while he and his colleagues used mental resonance imaging (MRIs) to observe the boys’ brains during the tests. The boys took tests regularly over a two-year period, and the marijuana users were asked not to use their chemical during the week before a test.

The non-users and users performed equally well on the tests. However, the users’ brains had to work much harder during the tests. The parts of the brain affected by the cannabis were the frontal and temporal lobes, which are involved in memory and learning.

Jessica Cohen of University of California in Los Angeles studies why adolescents engage in riskier behaviors than adults and children. Again using MRIs, she and her colleagues observed children and teens as they played video games. Cohen found that teenagers’ brains are more sensitive to rewards, especially immediate rewards.

“Armed with the knowledge that adolescents are more sensitive to rewards, yet realizing that their neural regions involved in self-control are not fully developed may help clinicians understand why adolescents engage in potentially detrimental yet appealing risky behavior, such as substance abuse, and how better to teach and encourage more adaptive behavior,” Cohen wrote.

In the past, scientists believed that the human brain was fully developed by age 14 years or so. The new research indicates that brain development and connectivity are not finished until the early twenties.

Material for this article was culled from a report in ScienceDaily, dated November 7, 2007, and posted at

Psych Drugs Prescribed for Children Six Times More Often in USA than UK

American children take anti-psychotic medications at six times the rate of children in Great Britain, according to a new study from the University of London. However, the rates are increasing in both countries.

Reasons given for the discrepancy were that British doctors tend to be more conservative about drug use, drugs are not advertised in the United Kingdom, and the UK’s system of universal health care limits prescribing practices.

The British rate was about seven per 10,000 in 2005, compared to four per 10,000 in 1992. In 1996, the American rate was 23 per 10,000. The most common reason for using anti-psychotic drugs is to treat autism and hyperactivity. The most commonly used anti-psychotic drugs in the study were Risperdal and Thioridazine.

Teens Prefer Prescription Drugs Over Marijuana and Alcohol

More teens and college students are abusing prescription drugs and even preferring them to pot and alcohol, according to a report requested by President Bush.

About one teenager in ten uses prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. Some pain-killers such as OxyContin and Vicodin are becoming more popular than alcohol or marijuana, according to the report by the National Center on Alcohol and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

The number of college students using Vicodin went up 343 percent to about 240,000 students between the years 1993 and 2005. About 170,000 students are using tranquilizers like Xanax and Valium, up 450 percent. About 225,000 are using Adderall and other stimulants — often to help them get through finals week.

It is easy to find these drugs in most middle-class medicine cabinets. Students also like them because they are considered safer than street drugs.

A study published in the July 2007 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter found a similar trend among middle school and high school children. The Harvard researchers found that 60% of the children who had prescriptions for such drugs also had friends who asked them to turn them over. One in ten traded or sold their medications.