In recent years, brain scan technology has shown that young people's brains are far more susceptible to the negative effects of substance abuse than previously understood -- and that there is a higher risk of developing an addiction later in life for those who start using substances in their teens.
Currently, more youths die as a result of abusing alcohol than from abusing all illegal drugs combined, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Fortunately, alcohol use by young people is on the decline, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse: "In 2012, 3.6 percent of 8th graders, 14.5 percent of 10th graders, and 28.1 percent of 12th graders reported getting drunk in the past month, continuing a long-term, downward trend."
But marijuana use is on the rise among adolescents.
"Historically, as perception of risks goes down, use goes up (and vice versa). Young people are showing decreased perception that marijuana is dangerous. The growing perception of marijuana as a safe drug may reflect recent public discussions over medical marijuana and marijuana legalization," NIDA notes.
And in 2012, according to NIDA, 14.8 percent of high-school seniors had used a prescription drug nonmedically in the past year.
The toll is alarming. With respect to teenage drinking, alone, the United States Attorney General reports that approximately 5,000 people under the age of 21 die every year as a result of underage drinking, including about 1,900 deaths from motor vehicle crashes, 1,600 as a result of homicides and 300 from suicide, as well as hundreds from other injuries, such as falls.
The NWDA is actively engaged in educating young people about the risks and consequences of substance abuse. On Oct. 15, 2013, working with community partners, the NWDA held, "Be the Influence," the 2nd Annual Youth Conference at Greenfield Community College, aimed at helping young people learn the skills they need to positively influence their peers.
Some 130 middle and high school students learned about the latest findings in the study of young people's brains from Dr. Marisa Silveri, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Neurodevelopmental Laboratory on Addictions and Mental Health at McClean Hospital; and they participated in interactive workshops on creating media messages, distracted and impaired driving and producing educational theater.
To read about the most recent Youth Conference on Preventing Substance Abuse, the 3rd annual conference, held Oct. 8, 2014, click HERE.
Jabish Brook Middle School
Greenfield High School
Belchertown High School
Turners Falls High School
Smith Vocational High School
Easthampton High School
Northampton High School Caught Off Guard players
Ware High School
Pioneer Valley Performing Arts School
Channel 22 reporter David McKay interviews a 2013 conference participant
2012 Substance Abuse Prevention Events
With our community partners, the NWDA held its first-ever Youth Conference on Preventing Underage Drinking, April 12, 2012 at Greenfield Community College and "It's Your Call," a conference for college students, on Sept. 19, 2012 at the University of Massachusetts.
Following a lively, interactive presentation at the GCC conference by Robert Hackenson on the danger and consequences of underage drinking, some 150 or more students in attendance broke into one of four workshops where they learned to produce their own video public service announcements, created materials modeled on the national Above the Influence campaign, learned from their peers how to form a Students Against Destructive Decisions group and produced their own skits with help from the UMass Not Ready for Bedtime Players.
The conference at UMass, which was attended by a broad range of campus and community leaders as well as students from the University of Massachusetts and Mount Holyoke, Smith and Hampshire colleges, featured interactive activities allowing students to experience the active bystander approach to intervening in and preventing destructive drinking in action.
You can watch a short Greenfield Community Television-produced video explainer about the conference held at GCC here, a WWLP Channel 22 news story here and a WGGB Channel 40 video here (scroll down to find video). Click the link on the upper right of this page to read the Daily Hampshire Gazette editorial about the conference at UMass.