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    HomeHealthTeens say they use drugs to feel calmer in federal study

    Teens say they use drugs to feel calmer in federal study

    Most teens who use drugs are searching for calm and hoping to relieve stress, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis suggests. The study points toward mental health challenges among teens as a driver of drug misuse — and says educating teens on harm reduction while expanding mental health treatment could reduce overdose deaths.

    The study used data from 15,963 health assessments of 13- to 18-year-olds evaluated for substance-use-disorder treatment between 2014 and 2022. Respondents were asked what kinds of substances they took, who they used them with and what motivated their substance use.

    Most of the adolescents in the study — 73 percent — reported using drugs and alcohol to “feel mellow, calm, or relaxed.” Half said they did so “to have fun or experiment.” But 44 percent reported using drugs to stop worrying about a problem or forget bad memories, and 40 percent said they used to help with depression or anxiety. Study participants could choose more than one response, which is why percentages add up to more than 100 percent.

    Sixty percent of the assessments documented alcohol, marijuana or other drug use in the previous month, with marijuana being the most-used substance (84 percent), along with alcohol (49 percent), nonprescription drugs (21 percent) and prescription drugs (19 percent).

    ‘A cry for help’: CDC warns of a steep decline in teen mental health

    The teens said they used alcohol and nonprescription drugs for fun or experimentation most often, and marijuana most often for relaxation. Eighty-one percent said they used drugs or alcohol with friends, and 50 percent reported doing so alone. Respondents were likelier to use alcohol, marijuana and nonprescription drugs with friends.

    But 51 percent of those who reported misusing prescription drugs said they used them alone. Given the proliferation of counterfeit pills that resemble prescription drugs and the “significant” risk of overdose while using alone, the researchers write, this pattern of using prescription drugs alone is “of particular concern.”

    To help counter the risks, the researchers recommend ensuring teens have access to substance use treatment and mental health resources and developing harm reduction education that’s tailored to teens. By teaching teens not to use alone and educating them on how to prevent and respond to overdoses, they write, fatal overdoses could be avoided.

    According to CDC data, overdose deaths among adolescents increased 109 percent between 2019 and 2021, with counterfeit pills playing a role in nearly 25 percent of deaths. Though two-thirds of the adolescents who died had a bystander present during the overdose, most provided no response.

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