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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 07/31/2012

Summer freedom leads to teen drug experimentation

Summertime for older kids can be a wonderful break from the rigidity of the academic year. But sometimes the unsupervised exploration can lead down a dangerous path.

A new study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration drew on a survey of about 250,000 children ages 12 to 17 and found they were far more likely to start using drugs and alcohol during the summer than during other parts of the year.

Researchers found, for instance, that in non-summer months, the average number of kids using tobacco and marijuana for the first time was each between 3,000 and 4,000. In the summer months, those numbers spiked to closer to 5,000 for both. For hallucinogens, the averages went from between 1,100 and 1,400 during the academic year to 1,500 a month during the summer.
(Karen Bleier - AFP/Getty Images)

“Experimentation is something to be concerned about for a number of reasons,” said Mylene Krzanowski, executive director of the student assistance program at the Caron Treatment Centers, who has seen the downside of experimentation too many times.

“The adolescent brain is still developing and the use of alcohol or other drugs changes the brain’s structure and how it works. This can have negative long- and short-term consequences.”

“Research indicates that the younger a person is when they first begin using alcohol or other drugs, the more likely they will be to have an issue with substance abuse or addiction as an adult. Also, because their brains are not fully developed, adolescents are prone to poor decision making skills; combined with alcohol or other drugs this can lead other risk taking behavior such as driving a car, swimming in an unsafe location, etc. We see the news stories every summer about those incidents that have devastating consequences,” she said.

Krzanowski said that despite protests to the contrary, many of her younger patients say that “they wish their parent had more rules for them.”

But the summertime is supposed to be about relaxing the rules, no? How might a parent manage the need for freedom with the need for supervision?

Krzanowski said it’s “best for parents to have open and honest communication around the subject of substance abuse. It is important for them to clearly state a no-use message and to provide their teen with the accurate information as to why they have this expectation.”

Oh, and by the way: “Be prepared to answer the question, ‘Did you ever use alcohol or drugs when you were young?’ By being honest, not giving the details and stating that you did not have all of the information regarding the dangers when you were their age, is a good way to help create the conversation.”

How are you managing the freedom versus supervision struggle this summer? Have you had to face teen experimentation?

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By  |  12:30 PM ET, 07/31/2012

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