Teen addiction ranked No. 1 public health woe

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According to a study released this week by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 90 percent of American alcoholics and drug addicts began their habits before age 21, making adolescent substance abuse the biggest U.S. public health problem, the Los Angeles Times reported.

For example, 75 percent of all high school students have used addictive substances. One in five meets the medical criteria for addiction, the study found.

The report comes at a time when researchers have clarified a critical aspect of addiction. Substances act differently on the developing brain than they do on the adult brain. The report notes that one in four Americans who began using any addictive substance before age 18 are addicted compared with one in 25 Americans who started using at age 21 or older.

Delaying the use of addictive substances for as long as possible should be a high priority of parents and pediatricians, the article stated. However, 46 percent of children under age 18 live in a household where someone 18 or older is smoking, drinking excessively, misusing prescription drugs or using illegal drugs, the report concluded.

Just as disturbing, many adults fail to see the harm in smoking, drinking or marijuana use in people under age 21 while the current culture portrays addictive substances as glamorous or fun the article said.

Walla Walla County is not immune. Young people here scored six percentage points and higher in drug and alcohol use than the state overall. Among the local high-school sophomores answering the 2010 Healthy Youth Survey from the Washington state Department of Health, 34 percent acknowledged drinking alcohol in the past month and more than a quarter said they had used marijuana or hashish.

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