Most Addicted Americans Start Using Before Age 18

Substance use in adolescents predictive of addictive problems later on

THURSDAY, June 30 (HealthDay News) -- Most Americans currently meeting medical criteria for addiction began smoking, drinking, or using drugs before their 18th birthday, according to a study released June 29 by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

The researchers surveyed 1,000 high school students, 1,000 parents of high school students, and 500 high school personnel; conducted analyses of data sets, interviews with experts, and focus groups with teens, parents, and school personnel; and reviewed 2,000 scientific articles and reports to document the state of adolescent substance use in the United States.

The researchers found that one out of four Americans who started using an addictive substance before turning 18 are addicted, compared with one out of 25 who started at age 21 or older. They found that three-quarters of all high school students have used addictive substances and about 20 percent meet medical criteria for addiction, and that, of the 46 percent currently using substances, a third meet criteria for addiction. The report notes that nine out of 10 Americans who currently meet the criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking, or using other drugs before the age of 18. Teen substance use is associated with high costs: $68 billion related to underage drinking and $14 billion on juvenile justice related to adolescent substance use, according to the report.

"Teen substance use is our nation's number one public health problem. Smoking, drinking, and using other drugs while the brain is still developing dramatically hikes the risk of addiction and other devastating consequences," Jim Ramstad, a CASA board member who also chaired the report's National Advisory Commission, said in a statement.

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