At least in Britain, it looks like the kids are, in fact, all right. Over the past decade, the percentage of 11 to 15-year-olds who use drugs has dropped by 50%, from almost 30% of the population in 2003 to 15% in 2013. Similarly, drinking among the same age group has dropped by a third, from 60% to 40%. Is it possible that for young teenagers, substance abuse has lost its perennial cool factor?
Experts have put forth numerous theories to explain why more and more kids are just saying no. Maybe drugs and alcohol have gotten more expensive, or perhaps bars have become harder to get into without an ID. On the other hand, maybe more affectionate parenting and a rigorous schedule of college-baiting extracurricular activities have kept kids on the straight and narrow.
None of the Above
But others argue that some kids are still going to be addicts, they’re just more likely to turn to a more readily available distraction: the Internet. Through social media, many teens lead online lives every bit as rich and complex as their “real,” physical ones. The rush of dopamine from the ding of a new text message may be as short lived as a hit off a crack pipe, but it’s virtually boundless. No teen pays for his own WiFi, so unlike chemicals, Snapchat and Instagram are essentially free. And online games can provide as much of an escape from reality as drinking and drugs, and many are engineered to be addictive. Taken to its extreme, tech addiction can be deadly.
But while kids are whittling away hours on their iPhones, those of their parents’ generation continue to use drugs in increasing numbers. In 1996, the older adults were, the less likely they were to use drugs. Today, drug use is more prevalent among 45-54-year-olds than any other age group, and even those over 55 beat out people in their late 20s.
This isn’t the first we’ve heard of this generational shift. In Scotland, more middle-aged addicts and fewer younger ones are seeking rehab than ever before. Perhaps many of these older drug users who spent decades reliving the 70s and 80s will finally be able to count themselves among the recovering.
What Lies Ahead for Tech Junkies
Meanwhile, it’s unclear what the future holds for Generation Instagram. Is tech addiction healthier than a heroin habit? Probably. All in all, it’s a fantastic sign that teen drug use is falling. But there’s no question that the nature of addiction is changing, and the treatment industry will need to stay plugged in to keep up.
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