According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a majority of adults with substance use disorder started using drugs in their teens. While estimates vary of just how significant this majority is, it’s generally agreed to be in the neighborhood of about 90%. This means that the best time to stop substance use disorders from developing is during a person’s formative teen years.
The Dallas-Fort Worth area is lucky to have avoided the worst of the American Opioid Crisis, and drug use among teens is relatively low in the area — at least compared to other major American urban centers.
In absolute terms, it is still a very real issue that has affected every other family to one degree or another. Having an idea of what substances are being misused can give parents a better idea of what to watch out for.
If you believe your teen has a problem with drugs or alcohol, please consult a qualified mental health professional immediately. If you’re in North Texas, you can contact our team at Dallas Drug Treatment Centers to find rehab centers that specialize in treating younger people.
The most recent Department of State Health Services Region 3 Needs Assessment for 2018, published in November 2018, has recent information on the types of legal and illicit substances widely misused by teens in Dallas County.
While some of the data may be a bit outdated, especially in light of spikes in substance misuse during the pandemic, it should give a good idea of the types of drugs commonly misused by school-aged children and teens in Dallas County.
Unsurprisingly, alcohol continues to be the most misused substance in Dallas-Fort Worth, following a similar pattern for the rest of the US. Alcohol is, by far, the substance that is responsible for the most emergency room visits and drug rehab program enrollments in Dallas.
As alcohol is widely available, illicit access by teens is fairly commonplace and often seen as a rite of passage. While alcohol use among teens has dropped over the past few decades, a majority of high school-aged teens still reported past-year alcohol use. As of the most recent survey, 25.5 percent of Dallas students from Grades 7-12 reported current use (use in the past 30 days), compared with 28.6 percent for the rest of Texas.
Tobacco is now the third most used drug among Texas students reporting past use (13.2 percent), with cannabis following close in a statistical tie (13.1 percent). Tobacco use is trending much lower than in previous years, which is a testament to tobacco’s waning use among Americans in general.
Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug among Texas students, with about 41.7 percent of 12th Graders reporting having used it in their lifetime, and about 13.1 percent reporting having used it in the previous month.
Use has increased among students and the general population, likely stemming from a rehabilitation of cannabis’s image in pop culture and a wave of legalization in other states. It should be noted that recreational cannabis use remains illegal in Texas, and only very few people are qualified to receive medical marijuana. Cannabis use has also recently been linked to severely stunted brain development in teens.
Other illicit drugs
While the use of individual illicit drugs like MDMA, methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl use is quite low among teens, when taken as a whole they are the second most used drug type, when excluding cannabis. A whopping 42.7 percent report having used illicit drugs in their lifetime and 13.6 percent have used some kind of illegal drug in the past month.
As a category, prescription medications are the fifth most misused drugs among Grade 7-12 students, with 10 percent reporting current use and 26.9 percent reporting having misused them in their lifetime. Opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines are the most widely misused drug types in this category.
This is a somewhat different pattern from other urban areas, where prescription medications are much more widely available and misused. However, this is an area of concern as opioid use disorders tend to start from the misuse of prescription painkillers.
The most misused substances among Dallas teens, with the exception of tobacco, are depressants. Even with prescription medications, we are more likely to see the misuse of depressants like benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax, Klonopin, etc.) and opioid painkillers than we are to see the misuse of stimulants like Ritalin.
This can be potentially concerning, as the combination of depressants is one of the riskiest scenarios when polydrug use (the use of more than one drug, either together or in succession) is involved. Combining alcohol — the most widely available addictive substance — with commonly available illicit and illegal opioids or benzodiazepines can easily result in death through asphyxiation.
Aside from the immediate threat of overdose, the misuse of most of these widely available substances also has the real risk of slowing or even stopping the development of your child’s brain. Even legal substances like alcohol can cause catastrophic life-long consequences for those that start consuming them regularly at a young age.
If you suspect or find out that your teen has been doing drugs, please consult with a mental health professional to discuss your next step. You can also get in touch with us to learn more and to find facilities and programs that meet your treatment needs.