A wave of opioid addiction and overdose is washing across Massachusetts. Improved access to addiction treatment is one good step in stopping it, but when it comes to adolescents, keeping them off opioids to begin with would be better.
Teens are better off without drugs and alcohol for a multitude of reasons. Teens’ brains are still developing, making them more vulnerable to alcohol and other drugs.Kids who start drinking alcohol before age 15 are four times more likely to develop an addiction than those who begin after their 21st birthday. Compared to adults, teens are also more susceptible to the more common tolls of substance use: car crashes and other injuries, sexual assault and suicide, worsening underlying medical conditions and school failure.
The teenage years are prime time for experimenting with risky behaviors. One might assume that for teens growing up with a chronic disease like diabetes or cystic fibrosis, that wouldn’t be the case since alcohol can cause very serious problems for these kids.
But if Boston Children’s Hospital’s Elissa Weitzman, ScD, MSc, and Sharon Levy, MD, MPH, are right, that assumption could be completely wrong. According to a recent study the pair published in Pediatrics, chronically ill teens do exhibit risks for alcohol and marijuana use, and at levels similar to those reported for healthy youth. Those behaviors carry all the usual risks related to teen substance use (e.g., accident, injury), as well as unique risks related to their condition and its treatment.
Their study represents one of the first forays into understanding how chronically ill teens navigate the experience of growing up.
“Unprecedented numbers of young people are growing up with a chronic disease,” says Weitzman, who works in the hospital’s Division of Adolescent Medicine. “But by and large, while there are studies of chronic disease and studies of teen risk behaviors, little has been done to understand teen risk behaviors in the context of chronic disease.” …Read More