The Bigger Picture
There is a national public crisis that is impacting the lives of people, families, communities, and societies. Addiction has directly impacted people aged 12 or older, as we see the numbers of those affected. In 2019, 165.4 million people used a substance (i.e., tobacco, alcohol, kratom, or an illicit drug) in the past month (SAMHSA, 2019). This national crisis has many causes, some of them being: exposure at a young age, accessibility, and lack of prevention programs.
Exposure to substances at a young age is a factor which can lead to early usage. Research has demonstrated that exposure to illicit drugs and alcohol prior to age 15 statistically predicts substance disorders in adulthood (Odgers, C., et.al, 2018). For this reason, it is important to reduce the factors that contribute to early exposure. Starting off with advertisements which has been a great factor of normalizing some substances. For instance, alcohol ads are present during sunday football commercials, YouTube ads, social media etc. These ads are intended to be for adults, 21 years or older, but in reality, there is a high exposure to younger individuals. The ads paint a picture of relaxation, fun and a good time. Therefore, children and adolescents are obtaining this information and seeing alcohol as a harmless thing to do. In addition, advertising on e-cigarettes has been a great concern and has created a lack of information for our next generation. Ads provide information on the products that grab the attention to the younger audience. For example, providing e-cigs that come in flavors like strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, and more. These flavors are attractive to the younger generation, big tobacco companies are aware that they are losing consumers since tobacco cigarettes have a strong odor that the next generation do not approve of. Additionally, the lack of information that adolescents have on e-cigarettes is mind-blowing. In an article by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services findings showed that most adolescents believed that e-cigs are just “flavor” (2016). In reality, adolescents are missing the bigger picture of these products which contain the main addictive ingredient in tobacco products, nicotine. Nicotine has proven to be the main ingredient in which people become addicted to. Unfortunately, nicotine is one of the most addictive substances and studies show that adolescents who start to intake nicotine at a young age are more prone to start smoking tobacco cigarettes.
Further on, accessibility to gateway drugs (alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, and prescription drugs) is very high. In a focus group done by a local non-profit organization in Monterey County, Sun Street Centers, findings showed that over 80% of participants believe that it is very easy to obtain these gateway drugs in their school environment. Students are aware of the places or people they can talk to in order to get their hands on these substances which leads to adolescents having the flexibility to “experiment” with these substances. In reality, children and adolescents are not realizing that by them experimenting at a young age it can lead to dependency or open the door to chasing other stronger drugs (cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, etc.). Individuals who extend their age of consumption to Alcohol Tobacco and other Drugs (ATOD) have a lower chance of addiction at a later age. People who reported starting to drink before the age of 15 were four times more likely to also report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2006). Prevention services are key to reducing addiction and the consequences that come with it.
Because of the causes and effects addiction brings to the daily life of individuals, it is important to take into consideration the multiple number of approaches in creating a solution
Having drug and alcohol prevention programs within the community is essential to this crisis. Starting off, School-Based Prevention Programs, focus on providing different services within the school environment to bring awareness and education on alcohol and drugs. Additionally, increasing the amount of Community-Based Prevention Programs, in order to develop different prevention services on a bigger scale, like reducing alcohol licenses, proving more take back programs, and more. Providing information to families, community members, local policymakers, and other stakeholders is crucial to reducing the crisis we are facing in our nation. Prevention services which may include but are not limited to evidence-based prevention programs implemented in local middle and high schools in order for students to learn about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
Odgers, C., Caspi, A., Nagin, D., Piquero, A., Slutske, W., Milne, B., . . . Moffitt, T. (2008, October). Is it important to prevent early exposure to drugs and alcohol among adolescents? Retrieved November 27, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3664402/
SAMHSA, (2019). Campusdrugprevention.gov. Retrieved from https://www.campusdrugprevention.gov/sites/default/files/2019%20NSDUH.pdf
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2016). Retrieved from https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/documents/2016_sgr_full_report_non-508.pdf
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (2006). Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/underage-drinking