Perception of Risk Lowers Teen Drug Use

Parents are often concerned about the choices their teens make related to substance use. They think of the consequences associated with drugs and alcohol, and wonder if their children are capable of understanding the impact that poor choices could make on their lives.

Research has shown that dialogue between parents and young people can influence teen drug use. According to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), understanding of the risks really changes the game.

SAMHSA provides regular reports about trends in substance abuse across the United States. The information is often gained through surveys among certain age groups and provides detailed information that can be used to ensure that education, intervention and treatment efforts are coordinated for the geographical areas and segments of the population that need it the most.

The report recently released by the Administration provides new insight about the connection between the perception of risk and use trends among teenagers. While the report does not attempt to provide information about a causal relationship between perception of risk and use, there are previous studies establishing perception of risk as a determinant of use.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) was the tool used to gather data about teens’ perceptions of risk and actual use of substances. In the NSDUH, the teens aged 12 to 17 were asked about the physical risks and other types of harm associated with consuming alcohol and using marijuana, cocaine, LSD and heroin. The teens were asked to respond using a scale of one to four, with one representing “no risk” and four representing “great risk.”

The respondents were also asked about their past 30 day substance use. The report issued by SAMHSA provides information for the years 2002 to 2011.

The report shows that the percentage of teens who reported a perception of great risk from the consumption of five or more alcohol drinks in a week increased from 38.2 in 2002 to 40.7 in 2011. Along with the increase in perceptions of risk, there was a drop in binge drinking among teens from 10.7 percent in 2002 to 7.4 percent in 2011.

In addition, those teens who reported a perception of great risk from the use of marijuana also had lower use rates than those teens who did not perceive significant risk attached to the use of the drug.

While the perception of risk attached to the use of cocaine has remained stable from 2002 to 2011, there has been a drop in use from 0.6 percent in 2002 to 0.3 percent in 2011. The perceived risk attached to LSD dropped from 76.2 percent to 71.3 percent between 2002 and 2011, but there was no significant change in actual use during that period. A similar pattern was observed for heroin perceived risk and actual use.

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