The Newest Teen “Addiction”: Smartphones

Smartphone Evolution

Do you suffer from the “addicting” power of a smartphone?  (Photo credit: Phil Roeder)

Do you know where your smartphone is?  Odds are that your teenager does.  A new survey sponsored by Facebook and conducted by IDC shows that the majority of smartphone users in the 18-24 year old age group reach for their smartphone as soon as they wake up.  For younger teens, the smartphone has become synonymous with their social life and while they might forget their homework or lose their keys, you can bet they know where their phone is all the time.

For a generation of parents who were likely adults before they even saw their first cell phone, watching their teens near constant typing, texting, and tweeting has become a cause for worry.  Is there a line to be drawn that limits smartphone use?  Is all this virtual interaction impeding the development of social skills they will need as adults?  Has this generation shifted from avid users to addicts?

Unfortunately, the speed at which technology is changing our world makes it impossible to gauge the long term and sometimes even the short-term effects of these changes.  The previous generation of parents had 30+ years to wonder about whether or not television was bad for kids before cable came along.  Meanwhile today’s parents have watched the smartphone, Facebook, texting, tweeting, skyping, and gaming change everything about how their teens interact with each other and the world around them.  When it comes to knowing what is best for our teens, it is easy to feel as if we are all strangers in a strange land.

If you are concerned about the time your teen spends interfacing with technology rather than interacting with face to face friends, there are some things you can do.

1.     Look in the Mirror

What many parents don’t see is that they are modeling the very behavior that is causing them concern in their teenagers.  If you can’t sit at the dinner table without checking your email, don’t expect your children to have better boundaries than you do.

2.     Define the Line

There is a fine line between normal teenage smartphone use and addiction to smartphone use.  Addictive behavior patterns are fairly standard, regardless of what you are addicted to.  If you know what an addiction looks like, it will be easier for you to see where that fine line is so that you can give your teen the freedom to be a teen or get them help if that’s what they need.

3.     Remember They are Not You

It can be hard for parents to grasp that the life their teen is living is vastly different from their own.  The teens of the 70s, 80s, and 90s bought CDs at the mall, watched all the same shows on TV, and spent as much time as possible together without any parents around.  Today’s teens have an entire virtual world to spend time together that is parent-free.  They don’t need to spend Friday night at McDonald’s or meet up with their friends at the mall in order to spend time together and stay connected.  They are always connected in a way us parents can only begin to comprehend.

The best things you can do as parents is provide a good example, set boundaries you believe in, and get help for your child if they need it.

Substance Abuse in College Students

Bonging is popular among college students.

Overview

Statistics about college students and substance abuse are cause for alarm.  According to a report from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse atColumbiaUniversitypublished in 2007, half of all college students binge drink and/or abuse both prescription and illicit drugs.  One out of every four college students meets the medical criteria for substance dependence which is two and a half times the national average.  When you factor in the long term consequences of these behaviors and the cost of college tuition, many college students are on a very expensive road to nowhere. 

There are severe short term consequences of these behaviors as well.  Researchers estimate that 1,700 college students die each year from unintentional alcohol related causes.  The incidence of acquaintance rape, drunk driving, assault, and other serious criminal acts has been shown to increase significantly when alcohol is present. As many as 80% of all campus arrests are alcohol related. 

Are things getting better or worse? 

There are several studies that have been tracking college age substance use over the last 10-15 years and the findings are not encouraging.  The percentage of college students who drank in the fifteen year period from 1993 to 2005 was relatively stagnant at 70% and the percentage of binge drinkers remained constant at 40%.  And this is the good news.

The first area where a significant increase has been noted is in the number of students who binge drink frequently, rising 16% from 1993 to 2001. Increases were also noted in the number of students who drink more than 10 times a month (25%), those who get drunk three or more times a month (26%), and those who drink with the sole purpose of getting drunk (21%).  This means that although the number of college students who are drinking hasn’t increased, the ones who are drinking are drinking more and drinking more often.

The second area where a significant increase is emerging is in the use and abuse of prescription drugs.  The increases in the use of these substances are so high they almost seem outlandish with increases of 450% in the use of drugs like Xanax and 343% in the use of drugs like Vicodin and Percocet.    Adderall, which is the prescription drug that has gotten the most press for abuse by college students, actually has the lowest percentage increase from 1993 to 2001 at 93%.

The third area where increases tell a disturbing story is in the use of illicit drugs.  In the 15 year time span between 1993 and 2005 the percentage of college students using illicit drugs saw significant increases in all areas.  The use of marijuana on a daily basis more than doubled while the use of all other illicit drugs including cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, ecstasy, and hallucinogens increased by 52%.

It is clear to see that the programs and systems put in place over the last two decades to turn the tide of drug and alcohol abuse by American college students are failing.  This means more college students are suffering the consequences of these risky behaviors.

Who is at the highest risk?

Research from the Monitoring the Future organization indicates that there are some subgroups within the college environment which have a higher incidence of substance abuse and therefore are at a greater risk for developing substance abuse problems.  College students who participate in the Greek system and belong to fraternities or sororities are more likely to abuse substances and participate in risky behavior than their non-Greek peers.  Almost 90% of those students who participate in the Greek system drink alcohol compared to 67% of other students.  Students in the Greek system are also more likely to binge drink, 67% vs. 37%, drink and drive, 33% vs. 21%, and smoke marijuana, 21% vs. 16%.   Another subgroup at a higher risk is incoming freshman, 45% of whom were classified as heavy drinkers in 2001. 

Male college students are more likely than female students to have used any illicit drug in the previous 12 month period and for most of the individual illicit drugs, male students were twice as likely as their female counterparts to have used that drug in the last year.  Male students also use marijuana and alcohol on a daily basis at a rate twice that of female students.  All these statistics indicate that male students are at greater risk of substance abuse problems during their college career.

Other research indicates that there are regional differences in the use of alcohol and all drugs that may put some students at higher risk than others.  Students in the Northeast and West have a higher incidence of illicit drug use across the board.  The use of methamphetamines, crystal meth, and ecstasy is the highest in the Western states.  Alcohol use and abuse, including the highest prevalence of binge drinking, occurs more in the Northeast andMidwest.  

Consequences of Abuse

The consequences of substance abuse by college students can be both significant and severe.  Statistics show that the incidence of criminal activity like assault, vandalism, acquaintance rape, and driving under the influence increases with the use of alcohol or other substances.  In 2001 alone, more than 1700 students died as a result of alcohol related injuries.  The number of students who hurt themselves as a result of drinking went up by 38% between 1993 and 2001.  Arrests on college campuses that were alcohol related increased by more than 20% from 2001 to 2005 and accounted for more than 80% of all campus arrests in 2005.  Almost 100,000 students in 2001 alone were victims of an alcohol related rape or sexual assault and nearly 700,000 were assaulted by another student who was binge drinking.

The academic consequences of these behaviors cannot be understated.   According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Task Force on College Drinking, one of the main impacts of alcohol use on college campuses is failure to meet academic obligations.  As many as 25% of college students have experienced some academic problem because of their alcohol use including failing tests, skipping classes, falling behind on class work, missing deadlines for papers and projects, and getting lower grades than expected. 

The link between alcohol consumption and grades is so significant it can be used as an indicator.  The findings of a survey conducted over a 3 year period that included almost 100,000 students found that the number of drinks consumed per week directly correlated to the student’s grade point average as follows:

  • Students with A averages consumed 4 drinks per week
  • Students with B averages consumed 6 drinks per week
  • Students with C averages consumed 8 drinks per week
  • Students with D or F averages consumed as many as 10 drinks per week

These findings make it easy to see why there is also a direct relationship between alcohol consumption and college drop-out rates. 

Students who abuse alcohol or other substances are not the only ones impacted by their behavior.  Other students on campus are consistently subjected to circumstances that impact their college experience because of substance abuse by others.  Almost 60% of college students have had to miss sleep or found themselves unable to study because of another student’s drinking or drug use. The safety of students is also compromised by the use of alcohol or drugs by other students.  Almost 30% of students report being insulted or humiliated by another student and 15% have had personal property damaged by someone else’s intoxicated negligence.  These students also find themselves as the victim in many of the crimes mentioned above.

What Makes College Students So Susceptible?

When students make the transition from high school to college, it can be the most challenging experience of their young lives.  The volatility of this time period puts students at risk as they search for new social connections and try to find their place in their new environment.  Additionally, there is this mainstream idea that part of the college experience is drinking, experimenting, and behaving with reckless abandon which leads many students to seek out these experiences as soon as they arrive on campus.  College students are also in the highest risk age group for heavy alcohol consumption and experimentation with the use of multiple substances. 

College students also find themselves dealing with new kinds of stress and pressures that they may be unprepared to handle including financial obligations and responsibility, making major life altering decisions, and separating from parents and other support systems.  Students also look to alcohol and drugs as the means to ensure social acceptance and as tools to create confidence when they are feeling unsure and insecure in their new environment. 

Living arrangements do seem to play a part in determining whether or not a student will use alcohol or other substances.  Students who live at home and commute to college are less likely than those who live in residence halls to abuse alcohol.  However, hovering parents who continually insert themselves into their child’s life can keep college students from achieving the appropriate level of maturity they need in order for them to transition into responsible adults.  Parents who make major decisions for their college age child and regularly rescue them from the consequences of their actions don’t allow them space and opportunity to learn how to make the right decision in difficult situations.

College students are also less likely to seek help, even when they are in very real trouble, because of the social stigma associated with alcohol dependence and drug addiction.

Conclusion

The abundance of research on substance abuse by college students shows that the situation is not improving.  Despite efforts to curb alcohol use and access to illicit drugs on college campuses, the prevailing public attitude that drinking and experimenting with drugs are part of the college experience continues to undermine the ability to make real, lasting changes.  Students are engaging in risky behavior like unprotected sex, driving under the influence, and experimentation with all types of drugs in alarming numbers and many students are paying a steep price for this self-discovery.  As long as it remains socially acceptable and even socially commendable to participate in binge drinking and swap study time for sorority parties, it will be difficult to make the high in higher education mean what it used to mean. 

 

 

How Do You Know Your Teenager is on Drugs?

As a counselor who works with teens and parents, this is one of the most common questions I am asked. Parents often struggle with this issue because the natural mood swings and personality changes that are a part of the teen years can make it difficult to determine if their child is acting normal or needs help. They are also hesitant to ask difficult questions because they don’t want to damage their relationship with their teen by accusing them of taking drugs.  Maintaining a relationship built on trust can be an important part of successfully navigating the teenage years and it only takes one misstep to demolish the foundation of that trust. Parents may be hesitant to approach their teens when they are concerned because they don’t want to alienate them or push them further away.

In order to know when to be concerned, when to ask questions, and when to intervene, you need to know the facts. Here are the common signs of teenage drug use.

1. Changes in Social Circles
One sign that parents should be watching for is a significant change in their child’s friends or social circles. If your teenager has been friends with the same kids since elementary school and suddenly shifts to an entirely different set of friends, this may be cause for concern. First, look for other factors like joining a new club, or playing on a sports team that may explain an influx of new friends. Changes in social circles or standing by themselves are not always indicative of drug use, but parents should pay attention to these types of changes as they can point toward several teenage problems.

2. Changes in School Participation
Another thing to watch for is the development of a negative attitude about school in general. This includes spending less time and effort on school work and home work, skipping classes, and grades that are going down.

3. Changes in Personality
When teenagers begin using drugs, they often become more secretive and are touchier about privacy and having their own space. Signs of these behavior changes include getting angry if you are in their room, unwillingness to let you borrow their cell phone, refusing to leave their backpacks or school bags where others could access them, or offering vague answers about where they are going and who they are spending their time with.

4. Changes in Aromatic Usage
If your teen suddenly develops the need to burn incense or use room deodorizer on a regular basis, but doesn’t seem more concerned with cleaning their room, they may be trying to hide the smell of smoke or other odors. Intensified use of body spray or perfume is also a sign that something may be amiss.

5. Changes in Financial Needs
One indication that your teen may be using drugs is an increased need for money. This may be evident because of an increase in their requests to borrow money, offers to work around the house for cash, or money disappearing from purses and wallets. Teens that become suddenly invested in selling or pawning things like video games and other electronics may also have a problem that needs parental attention.

Parents and their involvement in their teenager’s lives are still the best deterrent to drug use. Providing a supportive environment with clear expectations helps set the stage for drug-free teen years. But it is equally important to know the signs that your teen is in trouble and how to help them through whatever problems they are facing.

 

by Jan Hamilton, MS, PMHNP-BC
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Sources:
http://www.theantidrug.com/ei/

http://www.theantidrug.com/ei/signs_symptoms.asp

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The Art of Recovery

September 24, 2011- Phoenix Convention Center

The Art of Recovery – is a one-day event offering educational workshops, resources and solutions. This Expo is for everyone- people searching for help, those already in recovery, family members especially parents who want to learn about prevention, and anyone whose life has been impacted by addiction.

The 2011 Art of Recovery Expo will take a special focus on substance abuse prevention and will present parents and all youth mentors in the Valley with an important fact-gathering opportunity. The event is free.

For more information: The Art Of Recovery.com

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