Teenagers in the child welfare system

November 27, 2013

Teenagers in the child welfare system are at higher-than-average risk of abusing marijuana, inhalants and other drugs, according to a study in the November issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

However, the study also shows that parental involvement matters. “When youth perceive that their parents or caregivers are actively engaged in their lives, this may steer them away from drugs,” according to lead researcher Danielle L. Fettes, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego. “Youth who feel supported by parents tend to have a better sense of self and better mental health and, in this case, are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors — which is important for this already high-risk population.”

Using data from two national surveys, Fettes and colleagues found that 18 percent of teens in the welfare system admitted to ever smoking marijuana, versus 14 percent of other teens. Meanwhile, 12 percent said they’d abused inhalants, compared with 6 percent of other U.S. kids.

In addition, although abuse of “hard drugs,” like cocaine and heroin, was less common, teens in child welfare were still at greater risk: Six percent admitted to ever using the drugs, versus 4 percent of other teens.

The findings are not necessarily surprising, according to Fettes. It’s known that kids who enter the child welfare system typically have some risk factors for drug use — such as a history of domestic abuse or mental health issues.

But until now, there had been little research into their actual rates of substance abuse, Fettes said.

For their study, she and her colleagues culled data from two national health surveys: one covered 730 12- to 14-year-olds in the child welfare system; the other included 4,445 kids the same age from the general U.S. population.

Overall, teens in the welfare system were more likely to have tried marijuana, inhalants or hard drugs — but not alcohol. Around 40 percent of kids in each survey admitted to drinking at some point in their lives.

That, according to Fettes, may reflect a couple of facts. “Alcohol is readily available to teenagers,” she said, “and drinking is something of a normative behavior to them.”
But whereas drug use was more common among teens in the welfare system, not all of those kids were at equal risk. A key risk factor — for all teens in the study — was delinquency. Teenagers who admitted to things like shoplifting, theft, running away or using a weapon were at increased risk of both drug and alcohol abuse.

On the other hand, some family factors seemed to protect kids from falling into drug use.
Teens from two-parent homes were generally less likely to report drug use — and so were kids who said they felt close to their parents or other guardian. For the parents and others who care for these kids, Fettes said it’s important to be aware of the increased risk of substance abuse.

On the wider scale, Fettes said that right now, there are typically multiple, distinct service systems working with teens in the child welfare system. They may also be receiving mental health services and alcohol and other drug counseling, as well as having contact with the criminal justice system. “Often, they don’t work together,” she noted.
“Given the increased risk, the child welfare system may be an ideal venue to incorporate proven prevention and intervention programs for youth substance use,” Fettes concluded. “Drug abuse screening and treatment, or referrals for treatment, should be a regular part of kids’ case management.”


Swiss study reveals that 1 in 7 students has dabbled in “smart” drugs

November 26, 2013

One in seven Swiss students has already tried to enhance his or her performance with prescription medication or drugs. Besides psychostimulants like Ritalin, students also consume sedatives, alcohol or cannabis. These substances are mostly only taken during the exam preparation period. Only a narrow majority of polled students reported the desired effects, as a representative study conducted by researchers at the universities of Zurich and Basel reveals.

American and European studies prove that students use prescription medication or drugs to enhance their cognitive performance. Researchers from the universities of Zurich and Basel examined whether Swiss students have also experimented with neuroenhancement and which substances they take by conducting a survey of 6,725 students with an average age of 23 at the two universities and ETH Zurich.

Majority consumes soft enhancers

Around 94 percent of the students surveyed had already heard of neuroenhancement. 13.8 percent of these students had tried to improve their cognitive performance with prescription medication or legal or illegal drugs at least once during their degrees. The substance most used was alcohol (5.6%), followed by methylphenidate such as Ritalin (4.1%), sedatives and soporifics (2.7%), cannabis (2.5%), beta-blockers (1.2%), amphetamines (0.4%), and cocaine (0.2%).

The respondents primarily took these substances during the exam preparation period, only consuming stimulating substances rarely in the exam situation or for general stress during their degrees. While daily neuroenhancement was a rare occurrence (1.8%), the majority consumed “soft enhancers” such as caffeinated products, non-prescription vitamin products or herbal sedatives before their last big exam – around a third even every day.

The number of Swiss students who take neuroenhancing drugs is comparable with recent studies conducted at European universities. “The purported frequency of neuroenhancement at Swiss universities needs to be put into perspective as we asked about psychoactive and calmative substances,” says PD Michael Schaub, the study leader and head of the Swiss Research Institute for Public Health and Addiction.

Narrow majority obtained desired effect

As a rule, advanced students who also had a job alongside their degrees and reported higher stress levels consumed performance-enhancing substances more frequently. Certain differences were apparent depending on the degree course: In Switzerland, students of the subjects architecture (19.6%), journalism (18.2%), chemistry (17.6%), economics (17.1%), medicine (16.2%), or pharmaceutics (16.1%) had more experience of neuroenhancement than budding mathematicians (8.6%) or sports students (7%), for instance.

According to the survey, the intended effect was only achieved in a narrow majority of the students, which is why only around half would actually take these substances to boost their brain power again. “The development of neuroenhancement at Swiss universities should be monitored as students constitute a high-risk group that is exposed to increased stress and performance pressure during their degrees,” concludes Schaub. “However, there is no need to intervene as yet.”


Bodybuilding Boys Often Try Drugs and Alcohol, Study Finds

November 25, 2013

Teenaged boys who pump iron and pop steroids in hopes of improving their appearance may be at risk for binge drinking and drug abuse, a new study suggests.

This kind of behavior is really a type of eating disorder, said lead researcher Alison Field, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. Many people are just familiar with anorexia and bulimia as eating disorders, and they typically believe young women are the only ones who struggle with body image, she added.

“Our findings show that there are males out there who are extremely concerned with their weight and shape, and they may be doing really unhealthy behaviors to achieve their ideal physique,” she said. “But they are not trying to get thinner, they’re using products to help them be bigger.”

Unfortunately, the dangers don’t end there. Boys who are “super concerned” with their physique and use steroids or growth hormone are twice as likely to begin binge drinking and start using drugs, Field said.

Field’s study of more than 5,000 teen boys found that about 2.4 percent were very worried about their masculinity and also used supplements. These boys, like girls who starve or purge to lose weight, are susceptible to other risky behaviors, such as binge drinking and drug use, she noted.

Doctors and parents need to be aware that body image can be a problem among young men, Field said.

“They need to tell them that changing their physique is not going to change their world. They need to help them evaluate themselves on things other than their weight and shape,” she said.

This area, Field said, hasn’t been studied, so whether the problem is growing isn’t known. Because the issue hasn’t been recognized, doctors and parents don’t look for it or make the connection between body image concerns and risky behaviors, she said.

“We live in a society where we are constantly bombarded with messages about weight,” Field said. “If your son or your daughter evaluate themselves by their image in the mirror, that’s a problem and you need to talk to them.”

One indication the problem may be increasing is the current obsession with the sculpted body promoted to young men by clothing manufacturers and the media, Field said.

A lot of photographs young people see are completely altered, airbrushed and retouched, so what they see as an ideal can’t be achieved, she said. “And males are just as influenced [by these images] as females,” she noted.

The report was published Nov. 4 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Dr. James Garbutt, a professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said one of the most intriguing aspects of the study is the idea of using males’ preoccupation with muscularity as a parallel marker to females’ preoccupation with thinness. “Failure to acknowledge this in males may lead to an underestimate of disordered eating and mental distortions in young men,” said Garbutt.

“We know there is a complex interplay between eating problems, self-image and use of substances including alcohol, drugs and supplements,” he explained.

“We need to better understand the underpinnings of these connections from a genetic/biological, family/peer and cultural perspective, and we need to understand the long-term health implications in order to determine who may need treatment and what treatment should be given,” Garbutt added.

For the study, Field’s team collected data on more than 5,550 teen males who were between 12 and 18 years old in 1999.

They followed these adolescents until 2011. During that time, 9.2 percent said they were very concerned with their muscularity but didn’t show any bulimic behavior (binging and vomiting).

However, 2.4 percent said they were concerned about muscularity and used supplements such as growth hormones or steroids to enhance their build.

In addition, 2.5 percent were very concerned about being thin but didn’t show any bulimic behavior, and 6.3 percent were also concerned about being thin and their muscularity, the researchers found.

According to Field, boys concerned with thinness but not muscularity were more likely to develop symptoms of depression, while boys concerned with muscularity and being thin were more likely to use drugs.

Boys concerned about muscularity who used steroids or growth hormones were more likely to start binge drinking and use drugs, the researchers found.

Dr. Metee Comkornruecha, an adolescent medicine specialist at Miami Children’s Hospital in Florida, said “this confirms that body image concerns are associated with psychological issues.

“What we are seeing in boys is more rampant than what we have seen in the past,” he added. “There is a push by society for young men to look a certain way, and some feel that by using drugs they can get that appearance and, in turn, that’s how they feel better about themselves.”

Parents need to be aware of how their kids feel about themselves. “If they are overly concerned about their body image, they may need professional help,” Comkornruecha said.


Mixing caffeine, alcohol common for underage drinkers

November 22, 2013

(Reuters Health) – College-age drinkers who mix caffeine and alcohol are more likely to make risky decisions and require medical care, research has shown. A new study suggests younger drinkers often combine caffeine and alcohol as well.

“Although there have been several articles about alcohol and caffeine use among college students, little was known about this phenomenon among younger adolescents,” Dr. Michael Siegel told Reuters Health in an email.

He worked on the study at the Boston University School of Public Health.

Siegel and his colleagues analyzed information from Internet surveys of 1,031 youths aged 13 to 20 years old who’d had at least one alcoholic drink in the past month.

The surveys asked participants whether they consumed energy drinks that contained alcohol and if they mixed caffeine and alcoholic drinks on their own.

The researchers considered traditional caffeinated alcoholic beverages to be alcohol mixed with soda, coffee and tea. Non-traditional beverages were pre-mixed alcoholic energy drinks and alcohol mixed with energy drinks or shots.

“Most of the previous studies have focused on the combination of energy drinks and alcohol, but have not studied more traditional combinations such as alcohol and soda,” Siegel said.

Just over half of the participants reported drinking caffeine and alcohol together in the previous month. Than included 48 percent of 13- to 15-year-old drinkers, 45 percent of 16- to 18-year-olds and 58 percent of 19- and 20-year-olds.

More teens drank traditional caffeinated alcoholic beverages than non-traditional beverages – 46 percent compared to 20 percent.

The researchers found teens who had started drinking between age 11 and 13 were more likely to report recently drinking caffeinated alcoholic beverages than those who started later.

The findings suggest mixing caffeine and alcohol is more common among underage drinkers and starts at a much earlier age than previously thought, Siegel and his team wrote in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

They found young people who consumed energy drinks and shots mixed with alcohol were several times more likely to binge drink, get in fights and sustain alcohol-related injuries than those who did not.

The same link existed among those who mixed alcohol with soda, coffee and tea, but to a lesser extent.

“This may be due to the fact that energy drinks provide more caffeine than soda or coffee. There appears to be a gradation of effect, with higher amounts of caffeine associated with even higher risks of adverse outcomes,” Siegel said.

“Ultimately what’s probably happening is that kids who are driven to seek out new experiences push the limits in various ways. Energy drinks fit into that,” Aaron White told Reuters Health.

He is with the Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and was not involved in the new study.

“Energy drinks are a way to be edgy, literally and culturally edgy, and a way to take some chances,” White said.

Mixing alcohol and caffeine can mask some of the feelings of intoxication, making teens think they can drink more.

“Caffeine can make you feel like you’re less intoxicated. It doesn’t reduce your level of intoxication,” White said.

Many products containing caffeine and alcohol such as Four Loko have been taken off the market or reformulated without caffeine, the researchers noted. But that doesn’t seem to be stopping young people from mixing their own.

“We believe that efforts to educate youth about the adverse outcomes associated with the consumption of alcohol and caffeine are warranted,” Siegel said.

“Parents should be aware that underage youth are often adding alcohol to non-alcoholic beverages like soda and energy drinks,” he added.

“While the dangers of pre-mixed beverages containing caffeine and alcohol have received widespread media attention, we found that the main source of (caffeinated alcoholic beverage) use among youth is self-mixing of caffeine and alcohol,” Siegel said. “These results should become a part of health education programs for teens.”

SOURCE: bit.ly/HBgh9r Addictive Behaviors, online October 8, 2013.

Ways You Can Join the Great American Smokeout on November 21st

November 21, 2013

smokeoutTobacco use continues to be the largest cause of disease and premature death in the United States, yet nearly one in five Americans still smoke. Individuals with mental or substance use disorders smoke at even higher rates, causing many to die too early from preventable, smoking-related health problems. That’s why supporting the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) annual Great American Smokeout on November 21, 2013, is a great way to get involved.

According to SAMHSA’s most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) Report, use of cigarettes in the past month was more likely among adults with mental illness than among those who did not have mental illness (36.1 percent vs. 21.4 percent).

From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Million Hearts® campaign to SAMHSA’s “New Frontiers in Smoking Cessation To Support Wellness Among People With Mental Health Problems” presentation, learn more about all the resources that can help you get involved in the Great American Smokeout this year.

Read SAMHSA’s Great American Smokeout Blog

Communication Skills Building helps community leaders who work with parents of pre-teen girls

November 20, 2013

This November, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health launched Communication Skills Building for Parents of Preteen Girls (“Communication Skills Building”). Communication Skills Building helps community leaders strengthen the communication skills of parents and caregivers of preteen and teenage girls.

Research shows that girls who have strong and open lines of communication with their parents and caregivers are more likely to finish school and less likely to get involved with drugs and alcohol or become teenage parents. Important conversations on hard topics should begin as early as possible, or between the ages of 9 and 11.

Communication Skills Building helps community leaders work with parents and caregivers to address difficult topics, such as:


-Appropriate dress

-Internet dangers

-Peer pressure (smoking, drugs, and alcohol)

-Time management


The Communication Skills Building website includes facilitator’s guides, online videos, tip sheets for African-American and Hispanic (Spanish- and English-speaking) communities, and additional resources.


We will offer online trainings for community leaders to learn more about the program. We will email you once the dates for the upcoming webinars are announced.

For more updates on important women’s health issues, visit the new Office on Women’s Health blog.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Gun Violence in PG-13 Movies Tripled Since 1985, Study Finds

November 19, 2013

The amount of gun violence in PG-13 movies has tripled since 1985, the year the film rating category was introduced, a new study from Pediatrics shows.  Not only that, violent gun scenes have become more common in PG-13 movies, where children aged 13 and under can only see the film with a parent, than they are in R-rated movies, the researchers added. R-rated movies require people under 17 to be accompanied by an adult. But experts noted that the findings do not definitively link more exposure to gun violence on the screen to more violent behavior among kids. Click here for the full study from Pediatrics

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