Hidden in Plain Sight

Today's teen drug culture has a friend in technology

If parents take a quick tour of today's most popular drug-culture websites, they'll find celebrity-endorsed product reviews of the latest paraphernalia for consuming drugs, how-to videos on making the most potent strains, and dosage advice for achieving the "best high" from any type or form of drug. This burgeoning online drug culture wields unprecedented influence on today's adolescents and young adults.

Young people who search the web for information about marijuana, prescription pills, and other drugs are also finding something else: affirmation.

Teens have ready access to vast amounts of dubious, if not dangerous, information.

Popular websites such as erowid.org provide a clearinghouse of information about psychoactive drugs, including detailed descriptions, dosage advice, effects of using, slang, and FAQs. When young people search online for information about drugs, they can also find encouragement, affirmation, and even a sense of belonging. Many online sources tend to minimize the dangers and risks of drug use, normalizing the behavior and, in some cases, romanticizing or glorifying use.

Marijuana continues to gain popularity among young people.

Marijuana is the primary drug of dependence among the 12- to 25-year-olds admitted for treatment at Hazelden. Nearly 80 percent of the 900-plus adolescent and young adults admitted to treatment at Hazelden between April 2013 and April 2014 ascribed cannabis as a primary drug of dependence:

 Drugs used by 12-25 year old adolescents in order of preference

Synthetic drugs hold special appeal to teens.

An ever-evolving array of easily accessible synthetic drugs are marketed to teens as "legal," "natural," and "safe" alternatives to illicit drugs. Designed to mimic the effects of hallucinogens or amphetamines, these synthetic drugs contain mystery concoctions of plants and chemicals and are often packaged innocuously as incense or potpourri. Chemicals used in many such synthetics are also not easily detected in drug tests.

Drugs have never been more accessible to adolescents and young adults.

In the 2012 National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse, 50 percent of teenagers reported that they could get alcohol within a day. 31 percent could get marijuana and 34 percent could get prescription drugs within a day.

Parents provide a powerful antidote to today's teen drug culture.

While scare tactics and threats do little in preventing teen drug use, proactively and consistently engaging children in conversations about what's going on in their world can be extremely effective.

The other good news? Treatment works.

Young people can and do get sober every day. Hundreds of young people find freedom from addiction every year through Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's adolescent and young adult services. Families find help and support too.

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