The teen years are often thought of as a time for experimentation. Unfortunately, this can be a damaging perspective when it comes to experimentation and drug use. Why? Because what many people assume is a passing phase can easily turn into drug abuse and addiction. Vaping, in particular, represents a new threat to the health and wellness of teens, according to the most recent Monitoring the Future (MTF) national survey results on drug use and attitudes among high schoolers in the US.
Here’s a closer look at the findings, why they’re concerning, and what can be done to address the problem.
Teen Vaping is on the Rise
The MTF survey checked in with more than 42,500 8th, 10th, and 12th graders from nearly 400 public and private schools across the country. While some of the trends were encouraging, others were troubling — especially pertaining to the dramatic increase in teen vaping.
Key findings regarding teen vaping from the MTF survey include the following:
- There was a dramatic increase in the use of electronic vaporizer devices across all age groups. Specifically, past-month vaping among 10th graders increased from 21.7 to 25.0 percent among 10th graders and from 26.7 to 30.9 percent among high school seniors between 2014 and 2019.
- A staggering 82 percent of high school seniors report that vaping devices are easy to get.
- The majority of teens are vaping nicotine, with few of them recognizing that doing so can be harmful.
- Teen vaping of marijuana is also on the rise among all age groups, including the second-largest single-year increase in the MTF’s 45-year history: an increase in past-month marijuana use from 7.5 to 14 percent among 12th graders.
- The only decline among vaping measures among teens pertained to vaping of “just flavoring.” However, it’s important to note that students don’t always pay attention to labeling, and many of the most popular brands don’t offer nicotine-free options. Not only that, but many teens are attracted to nicotine vaping by the flavoring.
As mentioned earlier, the MTF wasn’t all bad news. Other nicotine and tobacco use, alcohol use and prescription opioid use among teens continued to drop. Meanwhile, the use of other illicit drugs, such as cocaine, meth, and OTC cough and cold medicines, remained “low and steady.” And while marijuana use among high schoolers remained consistent among the entire teen population, it’s worth noting that daily marijuana use did increase among 8th and 10th graders.
The Dangers of Teen Vaping
The MTF survey revealed that many teens are unaware of the dangers of vaping. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding can be extremely detrimental to the health and wellness of teens, especially when you consider the known health risks, as reported by Harvard Health:
- Nicotine is very addictive and can harm the developing brain. Even worse? Some e-cigarettes billed as being ”nicotine-free” have been found to contain nicotine.
- Some substances found in e-cigarette vapor are associated with an increased risk of cancer.
- Teens who vape are more likely to start smoking cigarettes.
- Vaping is associated with burns caused by exploding devices.
- Exposure to liquid from e-cigarettes can cause acute nicotine poisoning.
- Vaping during pregnancy can harm developing fetuses.
Lastly, because vaping is relatively new, scientists are still determining its effects, including on overall health.
The Prevention Imperative
All of this brings us back to misconceptions about the harmlessness of teen experimentation with drugs. According to Psychology Today, there are many consequences associated with teen experimentation, including the fact that experimentation with drugs in and of itself can have health consequences; the degree of risk is unknown, and the signs of a drug problem often go overlooked.
The takeaway? Any form of teen experimentation is taking a risk with a child’s future when it comes to a substance use disorder.
If you are the parent of a teen who vapes, know that you can influence their decisions by talking to them and by keeping the lines of communication open. The CDC has a helpful Parent Tip Sheet aimed at helping parents start the conversation about the risks of e-cigarette use with their children.
If your teen is already addicted to nicotine or another drug and is struggling to quit, the right treatment and support can empower them to make healthier choices moving forward. Leading drug rehabilitation center Harris House has been helping people overcome their addictions for more than 50 years. To learn more about substance use treatment programs in the St. Louis area, contact us today.