Vidyya Medical News Service
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Volume 6 Issue 21 Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 21-Jan-2004 Next Update - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 22-Jan-2004-Jan-2004
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Report says young females follow unique substance abuse path

Differences between the sexes is an age-old topic. Yet, when it comes to alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drug use, a new study shows that we have a lot to learn.

Young females have been catching up to young males in their use of harmful substances. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University did a 3-year study to look for answers that might be specific to girls and young women.1

What To Know

Looking at both causes and effects, the CASA study found that alcohol and drug use is much different for young females than for young males.

So, why do girls and young women turn to harmful substances? Often, young females who use them are trying to cope. Girls and young women may seek to:

  • Improve mood.
  • Boost confidence.
  • Relieve stress.
  • Lower inhibitions.2

More than teen boys, teen girls feel it is easy to get LSD, crack, cocaine, and heroin. They are just as likely as teen boys to say that marijuana is easy to get. Teen girls also are less likely to have to prove their age when they try to buy cigarettes.3

Other issues related to young females' underage drinking, smoking, and illegal drug use include:

  • Dieting and concern about weight.
  • Sexual and physical abuse.
  • Influence of peers.
  • Life changes—early puberty, moving often, and moving on to high school and college.4

The CASA report also revealed that caffeine is linked to young females' use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. Girls and young women who drink coffee are much more likely to smoke and drink alcohol than girls and young women who do not drink coffee.5 Young women who drink coffee also begin smoking and drinking alcohol at earlier ages.6

What's more, young females are more likely than young males to suffer the physical effects of harmful substances. The study found that:

  • Girls are more likely to become addicted to nicotine and cocaine.
  • Females start abusing alcohol faster than males.
  • Females are more likely to suffer alcohol-related health problems.
  • Girls and young women are more likely to have these problems even when they use the same amount or less of a substance than young males.7

What To Say

Parents may find it hard to talk with their daughters about the use of harmful substances. Yet, it's worth the effort. In CASA's survey of 8- to 22-year-olds throughout the country, most girls who talked with their parents about smoking, alcohol use, and illegal drug use said they were less likely to use substances as a result. Half of the girls who had these chats with their parents said they learned something new.8 So, it's crucial that parents know the facts about substance use.

Talking about interests and daily life can help, too. Discussing friends, dating, and other concerns can help young people make good choices and deal with tense situations. This can be vital for young females given the large role that tension, mood, and life changes play in their use of substances.

Caring adults should stay positive. Let young females know that you value them and the things they care about. At the same time, be clear and firm about your response to substance use and other problem behavior.

What To Do

There's a lot that parents and other caring adults can do to make girls and young women less likely to use alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs:

  • Keep the lines of communication open. The CASA survey showed that young females who have a close bond with their parents are less likely to use illegal drugs. These girls also wait longer to start using alcohol.
  • Look for upbeat influences for your daughter. Taking part in faith-based activities and activities outside the classroom can protect girls from substance abuse.9
  • Stay alert for substance abuse risks. A young female who is depressed, anxious, or shows extreme concern about her weight and appearance has an increased chance of turning to a harmful substance. Sexual activity-both risky behavior or abuse-and physical abuse are often linked to substance use.
  • Back words with action. Besides lending support and laying out clear rules, parents need to be good role models-don't abuse alcohol, smoke, or use illegal drugs.

Sources:

1 Join Together Online. CASA Finds Differences in Why Girls vs. Boys Use Cigarettes, Alcohol, and Other Drugs, last referenced 12/3/03.

2 CASA. The Formative Years: Pathways to Substance Abuse Among Girls and Young Women Ages 8-22, [pdf] last referenced 12/3/03.

3 Ibid.

4Join Together Online. CASA Finds Differences in Why Girls vs. Boys Use Cigarettes, Alcohol, and Other Drugs, last referenced 12/3/03.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 CASA. The Formative Years: Pathways to Substance Abuse Among Girls and Young Women Ages 8-22, [pdf] last referenced 12/3/03.

9 Ibid.

Additional Resources:


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