1. Teenagers—An Endangered Species
1.1 The Question—To Leave Home or Commit Suicide?
Several million teenagers will leave home during the year 1984, either because their parents constantly “bug them” to be something other than what they are or want to be; or because they disagree with what they consider their parents’ completely out-dated ideas of morality and behavior. And, for a myriad of other reasons. If the present pattern continues, over 5,000 teenagers will commit suicide, either at home or away from home in some strange hotel room or other alien place.
Experts working in this field of social awareness tell us that adolescent suicide is underreported by a factor of from 25 to 100% and that, for each teen who is successful in taking his own life, there are 50 to 100 unsuccessful attempts. In other words, the potential exists “out there” for double 5,000 successful attempts and that 10,000 or possibly as many as one million teenagers are so emotionally torn that, at some time, they either seriously contemplate suicide or actually attempt to end their own lives.
1.2 Teenagers and Alcoholism
The problem of teenage alcoholism is widespread and serious, according to the National Institute of Alcohol abuse and Alcoholism, as the following statistics attest:
Almost 1 1/2 million young people between the ages of 12 and 17 years have a serious drinking problem.
One of every three high school students gets drunk at least once a month, sometimes more often.
One of every three high school students gets drunk at least once a week and some authorities claim that these figures are underreported and that more realistic studies show that as many as 30 to 50 out of every 100 teenagers get drunk every week.
Many 13- and 14-year-olds sit half-stoned in school classrooms with the full knowledge of teachers and administrators, most of whom find themselves totally at a loss as to how to cope with a worsening situation.
Three times the number of teenagers are being arrested for drunken driving now than were arrested only 15 years ago.
Shockingly, too, drunkenness is now being observed in schools as early as eight and nine years of age.
Consumption of alcohol has increased in the U.S. by 40% since 1960, much of it among the college crowd, but also among adults. In fact, a statistical survey taken in 1950 of 17,000 college students who totally abstained from all liquor found that in 1976, 70% were now users with less than 4% now being abstainers.
Peggy Papp, a family therapist associated with The Center for Family Learning in New Rochelle, New York, is quoted by columnist Lew Koch as saying that alcoholism tends to relay itself from generation to generation. Youngsters see their parents drink and, as Dr. Morris E. Chafetz, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, says, “Youth drink to achieve a demonstrable measure of adulthood.”
In other words, teenagers tend to emulate their parents, Ms. Papp contends that parents are largely responsible for teenage alcoholism and they may have to admit “that the three-martini lunches and regular afternoon bar sojourns constitute drug abuse, just as surely as their teenager’s tippling during baby-sitting jobs and stashing liquor in school lockers constitutes drug abuse.”
Koch maintains that “teenage alcoholism is going to require honesty and vigilance on both sides of the generation gap.” Dr. William Rader, well-known psychiatrist, says that alcoholic parent(s) give disturbing memories, anxieties, worries to a child that can haunt him for the rest of his life. “They just can’t walk away from homes like that without scars.”
It is scary to realize that some 250,000 infants will be born this year in the U.S. with congenital abnormalities and probably 6,000 of these will be due directly to fetal alcohol syndrome; that is, their mother’s drinking problem is directly linked to the deformity. Many of these mothers will be teenage alcoholics.
The problem is not America’s alone. According to Michael West, in an A.P. release dated April 2, 1979, in Russia, some children become bottle addicts before they reach the age of ten. It seems that 90% of Russia’s alcoholics had their first drink before the age of 15 and fully one-third before the age of ten. It is noted that the greatest increase in alcohol addiction is seen in youngsters at schools and technical colleges.
In Britain there are almost twice as many teenage drunks as only 12 years ago. In 1982, in London alone, there were 4,805 convictions of drunkenness among teenagers and teachers say that alcohol is replacing hard drugs as a school problem.
In West Germany teenagers just ignore laws which ban the sale of liquor to minors and there are willing adults to be found everywhere who will sell alcoholic beverages to children for a profit, regardless of the cost to society at large.
It is said that Australia is becoming a nation of alcoholics with “the number of children with drinking problems increasing at an alarming rate,” according to a press release. Fifty-eight percent of all young women at Sydney University admitted to “a dangerous drinking level.”
The Church of Scotland said 98% of boys and 96% of the girls in Glasgow regularly drink at age 17.
In all of Great Britain $132 million is spent each year on publicizing alcoholic beverages on television screens and elsewhere.
In Czechoslovakia alcohol advertising has been severely restricted in order to combat youth alcoholism which, according to authorities, was fast getting out of hand.
In wine-drinking France the problem among young people became so fierce that a government committee addressing the problem has banned serving alcohol at school lunches to those under 15. This is a radical departure for Frenchmen to take. We well recall taking a trip about eight years ago with a number of French children, ages perhaps four to eight years of age, and watching them all served a glass of sweet wine at lunchtime.
Ireland has taken a forward step to combat juvenile drunkenness by banning all advertising of alcoholic drinks on its state-run radio and television stations.
Here, in the general area of Tucson, there are an estimated 38,000 residents with serious drinking problems.
1.2.1 Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction can create serious problems in the future for young people. Canadian findings indicate that chronic alcoholics who drink for ten years or more show significant signs of cerebral atrophy, according to Dr. Peter L. Carlen, investigator at the University of Toronto in Canada. X-ray scans of drinkers show loss of cerebral tissue and large cavities in the brain.
It was pointed out in the Toronto study that addiction becomes so ingrained that alcoholics will seek strange and bizarre ways to satisfy their cravings, going so far, for example, as John Barrymore, the famous actor, who is said to have in his early years “once sipped ethyl alcohol from his yacht’s cooling system while the painter Maurice Utrillo reportedly imbibed lamp spirits, benzine, ether and cologne.”
When Dr. Elizabeth was counseling at a reform school for juvenile criminals some years ago, she said that all flavorings, such as vanilla and almond, had to be kept under lock and key because the alcoholic inmates would drink a bottle at a sitting! Many became terribly sick after such indulgence but this did not prevent their trying again the next time!
1.3 Other Drugs
We have spent considerable time presenting statistics on alcohol abuse because this is the single most widely-used drug among teenagers and alcoholism will, no doubt, become a matter of concern at times to practicing Hygienists.
However, teenagers are “into” other drugs, too. Marijuana is the most frequently-used drug, after alcohol, among teenagers. A survey conducted at the Institute of Social Research showed that 51% of all teenagers surveyed used marijuana either at some time in their lives or consistently.
The active poison in this plant is cannabinol, a phenolaldehyde. The user “may have dreamlike experiences, with a free flow of ideas and distortions of time and space; a minute may seem like an hour. He may become talkative or pensive and quiet, or unsteady or drowsy.” We observed this drowsiness in one teenage user who had confessed to “bombing out” the night before. He just dropped off into a sound sleep while we were talking to him.
Physical reactions may include rapid heartbeat, lowered body temperature, reddening of the eyes, and dehydration. In some cases, gastrointestinal reactions or increased frequency of urination may be experienced.
Prolonged use of marijuana may cause psychological (not physical) dependence. Investigators at the National Institute of Mental Health found that strong doses of marijuana brought on “strong reactions in every subject.” Some experiments said the active ingredient in marijuana may destroy or deform the offspring of laboratory animals. Habitual users sometimes showed loss of memory and some difficulty in concentrating. A report issued by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1974 seemed to suggest that:
- Habitual male users of marijuana had been found to have depressed sex hormone levels.
- Female users of the drug who smoked regularly during pregnancy might adversely affect the development of the fetus by decreased oxygen flow resulting from smoking.
- Drivers of motor vehicles, when under the influence of marijuana, had slower than normal reactions and a reduced ability to concentrate.
- Marijuana could interfere with the fundamental chemistry of the living cells of the human body.
Note: Researchers have often disagreed on the results of marijuana studies, and sometimes have come to conflicting conclusions. Not all of the side effects that are possible from a drug will necessarily occur in every individual—however, we still harm our bodies by abusing any substance, and certainly by smoking.
Jet Magazine for March 1981 states that in the two years from 1979 to 1981 cocaine use bad doubled. This is a truly remarkable statistic. Since that time, it has become the, “in” drug and its use among teenagers who can afford it is on the rise.
The drug is believed to produce psychological dependence but not physical dependence. However, it can have certain alarming after-effects, such as the following: it can produce paralysis of the sensory nerve endings and nerve trunks, resulting in anesthesia (inability to feel pain); it stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in constriction of the blood vessels and dilatation of the pupils; it also stimulates the central nervous system, resulting in exhilaration and possibly in convulsions, followed by mental and physical depression, especially of respiration.
1.3.2 Heroin and Nicotine
Other drugs, such as heroin and nicotine, are not quite as common when it comes to working with teenagers. The Indiana Department of Health found (June, 1982) that some 14% of the teens studied smoked cigarettes. Users of heroin are more rare. In fact, among most teens, heroin is known as a “bad trip,” while drugs such as cocaine and marijuana are regarded as “fun” things.
However, nicotine addiction is established more rapidly than addiction to heroin and experiments by Dr. Michael A. H. Russell, psychiatrist at the Addiction Research Unit of Maudsley Hospital’s Institute of Psychiatry in London has concluded that the smoking of just one pack of cigarettes provides some 200 successive nicotine “fixes,” which is many times that received by a person first experimenting with heroin.
The frightening thing about teenagers and cigarettes is that their use is increasing and, apparently, no method of advertising about potential for harm appears to have had any impact either on teenagers or upon adults. The total number of cigarettes smoked per year rose 16% during the period from 1965 to
1978, this among all age groups including teenagers.
While some researchers in this field claim that smoking is not an addicting habit, that there are no withdrawal symptoms, no tolerance developed, and no antisocial behavior elicited upon stopping, others claim just the opposite. The Royal College of Physicians in London in a report entitled “Smoking or Health,” said that there is evidence of a “nicotine-withdrawal syndrome” composed of “intense craving, tension, irritability, restlessness, depression, and difficulty with concentration” plus objective physical effects such as a fall in pulse rate and blood pressure, gastrointestinal changes such as constipation, disturbance of sleep, impaired performance at simulated driving and other tasks, and changes in the electrical impulses in the brain.
Any person who ever took his first draft of a cigarette and persists in smoking can attest to the fact that tolerance to this drug is developed and that rather quickly, too. And any person who has given up cigarette smoking after smoking for any length of time knows that the experience, to say the least, can be trying. Other nervous reactions are possible, including pronounced irritability, nausea, depression, and so on.
Most researchers agree that nicotine produces widespread effects on both the central nervous system and the cardiovascular and peripheral systems. We have observed that when several packs of cigarettes are smoked every day, that the complexion assumes a strange yellowish tinge which seems to underlie the overall effect. This is especially striking with teenagers.
It is interesting that in recent years researchers have become more concerned about “sidestream” smoke rather than the smoke inhaled by the smoker. Two Danish investigators were the first to call the public’s attention in 1974 to the fact that it is the carbon monoxide, and not the nicotine, which is the major toxin for the increased risk of smokers to develop atherosclerosis and heart disease. And, of even more interest, perhaps, is the study which shows that some low-nicotine, low-tar cigarettes actually yield more carbon monoxide than some of the more conventional cigarettes.
“Uppers” and “downers” are also in rather common use among teenagers but to a minor extent when compared to marijuana. These are the mood-altering drugs. They are capable of producing both psychological and physical dependence with prolonged use. These types of drugs were introduced by the medical profession to the public and thence to teenagers as early as the 1930s as a “treatment” for colds and hay fever. They were later found to be “useful” for nervous disorders of one kind or another.
Teenagers in the 1950s found that they could use amphetamine pills to supply an artificially high level of pep.” Hence they became known as “pep pills.” Some youngsters and adults found they could get a real “high” injecting a solution of a pill directly into the veins. Amphetamines depress the appetite, cause digestive disorders of various kinds and eventually, with continued use, malnutrition with possible respiratory and circulatory problems to follow.
The tranquilizers which were introduced in the 1950s became a favorite with physicians who were called to “treat” cases of hyperkinetic behavior. Young children and teenagers alike are daily given these poisons by school nurses and sit half-aware of reality in the classrooms of America, just so the teachers and parents do not have to come to grips with the realities of incorrect living and eating practices.
However, those teenagers whose bodies have been thus violated must come to grips with the fact that these kinds of drugs do create physical dependence and that withdrawal can be difficult, indeed.
- 1. Teenagers—An Endangered Species
- 2. Teen Challenge—Enlightening Statistics
- 3. Working With Teenagers
- 4. Questions & Answers
- Article #1: 57% of Teens Flunk Fitness Tests By Mike Feinsilber, A.P.
- Article #2: Beauty By Dr. Herbert M. Shelton
- Article #3: Living A Happy Life By F. Alexander Magoun
- Article #4: Wit, Wisdom And Willpower By Edwin Flatto, N.D., D.O.
- Article #5: Kids On The Run