The Tide of Addiction May Be Turning
For decades, we’ve seen an increase in substance abuse involving illicit drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Young people especially usually contribute to higher percentages of experimentation with new drugs and abuse of so-called gateway drugs.
However, over the last several years, it seems this may be changing.
Decline Stretching Back a Decade
If there was a short-term drop in substance abuse, it might be dismissed as merely a blip on the radar. However, this positive trend stretches back all the way to the early 2000s, with a pronounced drop stretching all the way back to 2003.
A recently concluded survey of more than 200,000 teens showed a steady decline in substance abuse, with numbers among 12- to 17-year-olds declining by 49 percent in a 12-year period. The survey concluded that around 2 million fewer adolescents were abusing nicotine, drugs and alcohol over the period.
Cigarettes Are a Gateway Drug
An important fact amid these numbers is the significant decline in cigarette use among 12- to 17-year-olds. Even in the heyday of cigarette use, there was a certain stigma attached to young people smoking. The stigma of cigarette smoking has only grown over the last 20 years.
We know cigarettes are addictive and set the stage for moving on to other substances that are equally harmful. When a young person crosses the psychological boundary of cigarette smoking, pushing further into abusing other substances may be less of a leap.
Why This Matters to People Struggling with Substance Abuse
If you are fighting addiction yourself or fighting to stay clean after having kicked a habit, you may be asking why this matters to you. There are many ways your battle has inspired this decrease and benefited from it.
There’s no doubt that greater awareness and education have played a role in helping bring about the decline in substance abuse over the last decade. But while education programs and television ads are helpful, the impact of seeing someone you know struggling with addiction paints an even more vivid picture.
Where such issues were once kept hidden from view, this open sharing of struggles with addictive substances is now played out in the open. Beyond looking for an elusive silver lining, this is an actual example of good coming from even the darkest circumstances.
Those struggling with addiction currently benefit from this trend. As demand dries up, supply tends to follow. When the substance of your choice is readily available, staying clean is undeniably harder. As society starts to turn away from abusing harmful substances, availability becomes scarce.
Sure, you can always find a way to get that next cigarette, that next drink, that next fix, but if you must go looking for it, there’s an opportunity to find your way out instead. This trend can only benefit you as well.
What Is Causing This Decline?
Researchers are still speculating on what is causing this decline. With only a decade of results to explore, the reasons are not yet clear. We do know some movements have contributed to the decline, however:
Still More Work to Do
While this decline is a good start, there remains a great deal more to be done, possibly in the following areas:
- More than 37 percent of high school seniors say they have been drunk at least once.
- Marijuana legalization may be contributing to the slowing rate of cigarette smoking, as more forms of cannabis are readily accessible.
- E-cigarette use remains at around 12 percent and is still seen as cool among young people.
- Prescription drug abuse also remains a significant source of concern.
A dichotomy exists within the abuse of every kind of substance, though. Cigarette smoking, for example, is down across almost every demographic. In certain geographic areas, however, cigarette use has not declined and has even gained popularity.
While illicit drugs such as heroin are seeing a marked decrease in use over time, those who do use such drugs appear to be doing so more frequently, and are overdosing at frightening rates. In short, while substance abuse is down overall, where it does occur, the abuse appears to be worse than ever.
Cellphones: The New Drug?
Some researchers are pointing at the correlation between the advent of smartphones and the decline in substance abuse as being more than a coincidence. Indeed, there are reasons to believe that, in many ways, mobile phone usage and the constant access to social networks has in many ways filled the craving for excitement and novelty that drives people to use addictive substances in the first place.
If so, people in general, and young people in particular, may be trading one addiction for another. As anyone who has battled addiction knows, this can be a recipe for disaster and create an endless cycle of dependence.
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