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PSYCHOLOGY NEWS - Youth Substance Use: The Startling Impact of Binge Drinking and Marijuana on Young Minds

by Dr. Lynn Margolies


MAY 2015

Important Findings on the Effects of Marijuana and Alcohol in Youth from the 2015 Harvard Medical School/Cambridge Health Alliance Conference: “Treating Young Adults,” Boston, MA.

Science on Binge Drinking:

…Binge drinking as defined by NIH, SAMHSA
(in a 2 hour period):
• 3 or more drinks for females
• 4 or more drinks for males or
• 5 drinks total for all

…Binge drinking damages the gray matter (structure) of the brain in youth until the brain is fully developed (approximately age 24).
• Gray matter cannot repair itself.

…Any binge drinking as a teen and young adult compromises and shrinks the brain.
• Among 18-24 year olds in 2013: 37.9% binge drank
• 1 in 5 college students ABUSE amphetamines
• In 2013:
- 1,825 alcohol related deaths among American college students
- 696,000 students assaulted by another student who has been drinking
- 97,000 students sexually assaulted on campus related to alcohol abuse
- 599,000 college students injured related to alcohol and drug abuse

… 18-24 year olds use illicit drugs at 3x the rate of adults.
…The number one cause of death in teens is car accidents (most related to alcohol/drug use).
…The number two cause of death in 18-22 year olds is accidental prescription drug overdoses (43,982 in 2013).
…Kids who continue using and get addicted are often those with pre-existing problems with impulse control, relationships, and managing their moods/feelings.
…Kids most at risk for poor outcomes are those who use or drink alone and drink to manage their feelings.

Science on Marijuana Use:

…Longitudinal study findings following subjects through age 38:
• Marijuana has a dose and age related effect on cognition and memory that can be permanent and lead to an 8-10 point decrease in adult IQ.
• Subjects who started using marijuana after age 22 did not show these effects and recovered from the effects once they stopped using.
• DABS = hash oil processed with butane: 80-90% THC as compared with “regular weed” (12-22%).

…ER data from US and UK:
• Dramatic increase seen of psychosis in youth brought on by high potency THC.
• 25% of admissions of first time psychosis in some samples are directly due to THC intoxication.

Resources to consider:

1. National Institute on Drug Abuse
2. CRAFFT Screening for Alcohol Abuse
4. Recovery Campus Movement
5. Sober Housing at college
6. AA, NA, Marijuana Anonymous, SMART Recovery, Celebrate Recovery, Women in Recovery
7. Dr. Margolies’ columns especially:
“Seduced by Risk and Danger; The Teenage Mindset – Part 1”
“Protecting Teens from Danger: Tips and Advice for Parents – Part 2”


The above data was obtained from:
Jorgensen, Elizabeth (2015, April). What’s Addiction Abuse, What’s Not: Strategies for Positive Change. Paper presented at the Treating Young Adults Conference, Boston, MA.
Data compiled from:
National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2013
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Behavioral Health Barometer, 2014
National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 2014
Monitoring the Future, 2013

Dr. Margolies’ Commentary:

…When youth believe that drinking, drug use or other destructive behavior is what everyone is doing, they are more likely to do it too and less likely to push themselves to a higher standard. Help kids understand before college that the majority of kids are NOT binge drinking and using drugs. And the ones not doing it are cool, successful kids who have figured out how to resist, follow their heart, and engage with positive causes that are stimulating and make them feel good in a sustainable way. Help them understand the science discussed here and in the columns. Think ahead with them about how to protect themselves from this “culture.”

…Also, certain kids have a particular vulnerability: creative, sensitive kids who think outside the box and may struggle with mood or mental health issues. These kids are more likely to be tipped over into a psychotic break from a history of using pot and/or hallucinogens than if they had not used. These kids seem to have a particular vulnerability to the effects of drugs - potentially activating a psychosis that perhaps might not otherwise have happened.

…For help with how to talk to teens, please see columns below.

Relevant Articles:

Seduced by Risk and Danger: The Teenage Mindset - Part 1

Protecting Teens from Danger: Tips and Advice for Parents - Part 2

Know Your Limits: A Prom Primer for Parents

Teen Drinking: Limits vs. Punishment

Getting Unhooked From Pain and Choosing Happiness

Does Your Teenager Want to Get Caught?

The Paradox of Pushing Kids to Succeed


To see other similar articles, click on the following links: Psychology News

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