Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

An Update on Adolescent Drug Use: What School Counselors Need to Know

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

An Update on Adolescent Drug Use: What School Counselors Need to Know

Article excerpt

School counselors need to have accurate and age-appropriate prevention education information in order to counsel teens on drug use. This article presents developmentally specific prevention materials for the most important emerging substances of abuse: Ecstasy, methamphetamine, cough and cold medication, prescription opiates and stimulants, and the "date rape" drugs. Because developing appropriate materials requires understanding how adolescents develop, an expert panel approach was used, supplemented with a literature review and teen focus groups.


Substance use affects many areas of the brain and can cause adverse behavioral, psychological, and social consequences. This is particularly true during adolescence. Adolescence is a unique period of development marked by rapid changes in brain structure, behavior, and social functioning. Recent research strongly suggests that the brain continues to mature during adolescence and into young adulthood (Giedd et al., 1999). For example, millions of new synapses (connections between brain cells) in the frontal lobes are created and organized during adolescence. Nerve cells develop a fatty coating called myelin during adolescence, which allows the brain to function more efficiently. The adolescent brain also has a heightened biological vulnerability to the development of addiction (Chambers, Taylor, & Potenza, 2003); addictive disorders identified in adults usually begin in adolescence or young adulthood (Kandel, Yamaguchi, & Chen, 1992; Wagner & Anthony, 2002).

Because of these changes in the brain, adolescents may be particularly susceptible to the influence of external factors such as substance use (Dahl, 2004). Substance use can interrupt brain development. Some changes in the brain and in functioning may be reversible when drug use stops, but other changes appear to be either permanent or very long-lasting, leading to persistent deficits in memory and motor coordination (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2001; Tapert & Schweinsburg, 2005). In addition, because each developmental period sets the stage for the next period, delayed development during adolescence may "reverberate" over the course of later development.

Recent information about the nonmedical use of prescription drugs, misuse of some over-the-counter drugs, and the use of club drugs (drugs such as Ecstasy and methamphetamine that are closely tied to the all-night dance club scene) heightens the need for school counselors to familiarize themselves with these substances, in addition to the more commonly abused substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana (Monitoring the Future, 2005). School counselors are uniquely positioned to inform and educate adolescents about the harmful effects of substance use, a role spelled out by the American School Counselor Association (2005). They can do so successfully if they have accurate, up-to-date prevention education materials designed for use with adolescents.

In this article we provide data on the most important harms associated with adolescent substance use for the following drugs: Ecstasy (MDMA), methamphetamine, cough and cold medication (dextromethorphan), prescription opiates and stimulants, and "date rape" drugs, including sedatives and gamma hydroxybutarate (GHB). We also include key prevention messages specific to each drug class, as well as more general prevention messages to use when communicating with adolescents. After alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and crack/cocaine, these drugs are the most commonly used and abused by adolescents (Monitoring the Future, 2005).

Data come from research conducted as part of a project to develop technical assistance materials (Ellickson, Watkins, Vaiana, & Hiromoto, 2005) for Project ALERT, a drug education and prevention curriculum that has been nationally recognized as an exemplary school-based drug education program (BEST Foundation for a Drug Free Tomorrow, 2005). …

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