National Drug Facts Week: The ShoutOut

This week is National Drug Facts Week, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As someone who has spent a long time working with teens and substance use and abuse, I’m happy to take part!

Here are two facts from NIDA I want to shout out:

In 2009, cigarette smoking continued to be at its lowest point for 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. I’m shouting out to make it even lower in 2010!

I’m shouting out because in 2009, nearly 1 out of 10 high school seniors were still abusing prescription pain pills… unintentional overdoses involving pain medicines have more than tripled in the past 10 years, outnumbering total deaths involving heroin and cocaine.

I also want to add some things I learned through my work as a counselor to adolescents with drug problems, and my years doing research on teen drug use.

*Alcohol and tobacco are the biggest problems. Alcohol can lead to bad accidents, stupid fights, and even death. I still remember the college kid I found outside my city apartment, dead from drinking so much his body just shut down. He was sitting in his car, an open bottle between his legs. And nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs we have – science backs that up, and backs up that it causes cancer.

*Kids who started experimenting with alcohol, tobacco, and drugs earlier in life ended up much worse off. A lot of teens out there are pushing substance use as fun and cool, a way to act grown up. But starting early is bad news.

*Huffing glue, gasoline, paint thinner, household cleaners, and other types of volatile chemicals is really bad. Those kids often had neurological deficits, as these chemicals can get right at the brain and damage it.

*Prescription drugs seem easy, as it is often easy to get your hands on them. We live in a pharmaceutical society, using drugs for all sorts of reasons. But one thing is using drugs in prescribed ways. Another is using pills for fun, to escape, to try to deal with emotions. This type of “functional use,” using drugs to handle your social life and to wipe away negative feelings, is exactly the sort of thing that can get you hooked on using more.

So those are a few facts to chew on. If you want to know more, you can check out NIDA’s Facts on Drugs for Teens. You can also go surf The Sara Bellum Blog – or NIDA for Teens.

One section of the Sara Bellum site provides information on the brain and addiction. The site does a good job conveying basic information in clear language.

Drugs are chemicals. They work in the brain by tapping into its communication system and interfering with the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. Different drugs—because of their chemical structures—work differently. In fact, some drugs can change the brain in ways that last long after the person has stopped taking drugs, maybe even permanently. This is more likely when a drug is taken repeatedly.

For those of you who want to know more, we have some previous posts on Neuroanthropology that can help do just that. We know that drugs of abuse impact the dopamine system in the brain. So, what is the dopamine system?

We also know that the dopamine system plays a role in getting people involved with drugs, in wanting them more and in focusing attention on drug use rather than other things.

But dopamine is not the only neurochemical implicated in abuse. Glutamate also plays a role. So, what does glutamate do, and how does learning play a role in substance use and abuse?

Finally, National Drug Facts Week is a good time to highlight an interesting video of Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, speaking with teenagers at The High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College in Harlem. I’ve embedded the video below, but here is the direct YouTube link in case you need it.

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