Drug Use Among Youth

No Simple Answers to Guide Prevention Gao ID: HRD-94-24 December 29, 1993

Although the use of illegal drugs and alcohol among adolescents has declined from the peak levels of the late 1970s and early 1980s, it remains widespread. The many social ills that accompany drug and alcohol use remain a serious public policy concern throughout American society. This report (1) describes the prevalence of drug and alcohol use among various groups of young people; (2) describes the relationship between drug and alcohol use; (3) identifies risk factors most related to drug and alcohol use by youth; (4) identifies and describes federal programs aimed at drug risk factors; and (5) on the basis of GAO's analysis, describes what set of policies might constitute a reasonable prevention/intervention strategy.

GAO found that: (1) although drug and alcohol use among adolescents has declined from its peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there is still considerable underage drinking and illegal drug use among youth; (2) there is little difference in drug and alcohol use between minority and white youth; (3) delinquency and early use of alcohol are significantly associated with the use of marijuana and cocaine; (4) risk factors vary for one-time users and those that use drugs over a period of time; (5) some researchers believe that the interaction of several risk factors determines the probability of drug use by youth; (6) poverty and place of residence are not significantly related to illicit drug use; (7) the federal government has 19 substance abuse prevention programs, most of which are targeted at high-risk groups; (8) other federal prevention funding is available for substance abuse prevention activities; (9) current risk factor research does not provide information to develop targeted prevention strategies because of the varying risk factors among different drug-using groups; and (10) there is a consensus that prevention approaches that are comprehensive, community based, and collaborative are the most effective.

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