Teens Think Smoking More Dangerous Than Drinking, Drugs

THURSDAY Dec. 17, 2009 -- American teens believe that smoking cigarettes is riskier than using illicit drugs or binge drinking, a new government report shows.

That perception may increase the likelihood that they'll experiment with alcohol or illegal substances, the report authors said.

"We are on the right track with cigarette smoking and need to keep raising awareness among teens about the dangers of other substances," Pamela S. Hyde, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), said in a news release from the agency. "Understanding that perception of harm is a strong predictor of potential substance use among young people can help guide the development of substance prevention messages."

Responses from 44,979 adolescents, aged 12-17, who took part in the 2007 and 2008 SAMHSA National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that teens' perception of cigarette-related risk was constant among all groups, but there was considerable age- and gender-related variation in perception of risk associated with other types of substances.

Among the key findings:

  • Nearly 70 percent of all respondents believed smoking one or more packs of cigarettes per day posed a major health risk.
  • Only 40 percent of participants believed binge drinking (having five or more drinks of alcohol once or twice a week) posed a major risk, and only 34.2 percent thought smoking marijuana once a month posed a major risk. Using cocaine once a month was seen as highly risky by 49.7 percent of the adolescents, while 50.9 percent believed using LSD once or twice a month was highly risky.
  • Girls were more likely than boys to associate great risk with smoking one or more packs of cigarettes a day, having five or more drinks of alcohol once or twice a week, and smoking marijuana once a month.
  • Boys were more likely than girls to perceive great risk from trying heroin once or twice.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers advice on how parents can prevent substance abuse in children.

Posted: December 2009


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