Decades of research on adolescent drug use demonstrate that the only prevention approaches with a chance of having a real impact on attitudes and prevalences are those that are built around scientific facts and delivered honestly.
There are no shortcuts: Even when the scientific picture is partial or incomplete (as it usually is), the best strategy is to give teens the most accurate and straightforward information we have. Most young people are eager to learn (even if they won’t admit it) about what different drugs of abuse do to their brains, their overall health, and their academic and social performance. Luckily, we have a fascinating and relevant story to tell them. Just from the most recent research we have learned, for example, that the human brain is not fully developed until the early 20s, which helps explain young people’s bias toward risky decision making, that addictive substances begin by affecting the pleasure centers of the brain but can go on to disrupt higher functions, like learning, impulse control, and decision-making, and that some of the negative effects that drugs of abuse can have on physical and mental health may result from their ability to change the patterns of gene expression in the brain. Discoveries such as these will no doubt influence how we prevent and treat drug abuse and addiction in years to come.
Like everybody else, young people want to make their own decisions based on what they perceive to be the best available information. However, young people can only listen and take in that information when they trust the messenger. Unfortunately, it would be hard to argue that we, as a society, have done a particularly good job in this regard.
NIDA’s National Drug Facts Week (NDFW) strives to earn back young people’s trust. From October 31st through Sunday, November 6th, the second annual NDFW will bring together teens and scientific experts in communities across the country to bring forth the facts and “Shatter the Myths.”
To encourage conversation about drug use during National Drug Facts Week, NIDA has developed the 2011 National Drug IQ Challenge - a 10-question, multiple-choice interactive quiz that teens and adults can take to test their science-based knowledge about drugs. NIDA will also hold its fifth annual National Drug Facts Chat Day on November 1st. On that day, I will be one of forty NIDA scientists and science writers answering questions about drugs from teens in schools around the country via a live Web chat. Anyone can follow the Chat by going on NIDA’s Web site.
NIDA recognizes that teens have the need and the right to know about drugs and their effects on brain and body. To cut through all the confusion I encourage you to join us this week and learn the facts about drug abuse and addiction. Information on National Drug Facts Week can be found at http://drugfactsweek.drugabuse.gov.
Nora D. Volkow, M.D., is the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse