Addiction, Recovery and the Dangers Young People Face Today

Robotripping, dank, bath salts, spice, triple C’s, skittles, Roxies, Oxys, Xanibars, K2, if these names don’t sound familiar, the current trends in juvenile drug abuse are as surprising to you as they were to me.

A recovering addict myself, I was alarmed to learn what kinds of drugs are being used by our youth today.  The drugs are mostly synthetic, increasingly lethal, tend to require medically supervised withdrawal, and, in many cases, are undetectable by drug test.

In 2010, SAMHSA reported 10.1 percent of youths aged 12 to 17 were current illicit drug users.   That same year, the rate of current illicit drug use was higher among young adults aged 18 to 25, stood at 21.5 percent.

The rate of binge drinking in 2010 was 40.6 percent for young adults aged 18 to 25. Heavy alcohol use was reported by 13.6 percent of persons aged 18 to 25.  According to the CDC about 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinks. The National Institute on Alcohol and Drug Abuse reported 42 percent of college students report binge drinking in the previous two weeks.  All of them do not go on to become alcoholics. But enough of them do so that support systems in our schools and colleges are implemented

Detox, treatment, and on-going relapse prevention that includes 12-step meetings have been the path to freedom for thousands on the road to recovery. For many teens in recovery, returning to school means returning to the same environment they drank and used drugs in; a vulnerable position for someone new in recovery. Some communities are responding with Sober High Schools and many colleges have Collegiate Recovery Communities (CRC’s).

Dr. Kitty Harris, Director, Center for Study of Addiction and Recovery, Texas Tech University said recently that “going to college in early recovery is almost impossible without support.”

During a recent conference called Understanding and Responding to Young Adult Addiction and Recovery, held at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, Dr. Steven Lee, Program Director for Adult Psychiatric Partial Hospitalization Services and Young Adult Addiction Services at Ridgeview Hospital in suburban Atlanta, said “I have never seen anything like what I have witnessed over the last five years. More kids are using opiates, withdrawal is riskier and I have seen more children die.”

Education, a staunch repudiation of denial, community, and systems that support on-going recovery are needed to thwart these deadly threats to our children. Drugs, cheap drugs, are available in our homes (prescription medication), on-line (bath salts, K2) at the local head shop, and in our schools.

How do you know if a child is using drugs or alcohol? The nature of addiction is insidious and shrouded in denial making detection and diagnosis difficult. However, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence there are some behavioral, physical and psychological signs to pay attention to:

Physical and health warning signs of drug abuse

  • Eyes that are bloodshot or pupils that are smaller or larger than normal.
  • Frequent nosebleeds -- could be related to snorted drugs (meth or cocaine).
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Sudden weight loss or weight gain.
  • Seizures without a history of epilepsy.
  • Deterioration in personal grooming or physical appearance.
  • Injuries/accidents and person won’t or can’t tell you how they got hurt.
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing.
  • Shakes, tremors, incoherent or slurred speech, impaired or unstable coordination.

Behavioral signs of drug abuse

  • Drop in attendance and performance at work or school; loss of interest in extracurricular activities, hobbies, sports or exercise; decreased motivation.
  • Complaints from co-workers, supervisors, teachers or classmates.
  • Unusual or unexplained need for money or financial problems; borrowing or stealing; missing money or valuables.
  • Silent, withdrawn, engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors.
  • Sudden change in relationships, friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies.
  • Frequently getting into trouble (arguments, fights, accidents, illegal activities).

Psychological warning signs of drug abuse

  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude.
  • Sudden mood changes, irritability, angry outbursts or laughing at nothing.
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity or agitation.
  • Lack of motivation; inability to focus, appearing lethargic or “spaced out.”
  •  Appearing fearful, withdrawn, anxious, or paranoid, with no apparent reason.

Our youth in recovery face unique challenges. Getting clean and staying clean must be navigated around the joy seeking rite of passage adolescents and young adults experience. Peer acceptance, sorting out identity, having fun, and reconciling the wreckage of addiction to move forward must be addressed to embark upon a sustainable road to recovery.

The data from the existing programs are phenomenal. Dr. Harris reported a 97 percent recovery rate in the fall 2011 CRC students. Both Texas Tech and Kennesaw State reported higher grade point averages among CRC students versus the general student body.  Why all colleges do not have CRC’s and why more sober high schools are not in existence is evidence of the deep denial around this challenge. The statistics speak for themselves.

Detection, diagnosis, treatment, and long term support networks in our schools, colleges, and 12 step programs are our best defense against this scourge that is threatening, growing, impairing and killing our children.

SAMHSA, MacArthur Foundation to Promote Diversion Programs for Youth With Mental Health Issues

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation have teamed up for a new $1 million project to divert youth with behavioral health conditions away from the juvenile justice system and into community-based programs and services.

According to SAMHSA, 60-70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a mental disorder and more than 60 percent suffer from a substance abuse disorder. Many of these youth, SAMHSA says, wind up in the juvenile justice system rather than receiving treatment for their underlying disorders.

Up to eight states will be selected competitively to participate in the new collaborative initiative. If selected, states would receive support to develop and initiate policies and programs to divert youth away from the juvenile justice system early.

"This innovative effort will help ensure that fewer at- risk young people fall through the cracks and into an overburdened juvenile justice system that is very often unable to address their underlying behavioral health problems," SAMHSA Administrator Pam Hyde said in a press release. "This initiative focuses on helping divert these youth whenever possible to community-based behavioral health services that can actually turn their lives around for the better."

The program will combine SAMHSA’s Policy Academy initiative and the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change Action Network and will emphasize reducing the overrepresentation of youth of color with mental and/or substance use disorders in the juvenile justice system while incorporating mental, substance use and co-occurring screening and assessment practices throughout the juvenile justice system recognizing the important roles of evidence-based practice, treatment, and trauma-informed services.

The National Center for Mental Health, Juvenile Justice at Policy Research Associates, Inc. and the Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc. have agreed to coordinate the proposed initiative.

“The states selected will have access to leading experts in the field and the latest research and information on front-end diversion policies and programs for youth with co-occurring disorders,” said Laurie Garduque, Director of Justice Reform for the MacArthur Foundation. “With the seamless integration of SAMHSA’s and MacArthur’s demonstrated strategies for effective training and technical assistance, we will promote broader diffusion and new adaptations of models of best practices to states committed to systems reform.”


SAMHSA Twitter Chat to be Held Today

Get your questions about recovery from addiction and treatment answered by experts during a Twitter chat held today from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. ET and hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

This event will create a dialogue with experts in the recovery, treatment and prevention fields, to allow the public to ask questions and learn more information. They hope to spread the message that prevention works, treatment is effective and people can and do recover.

This September #RecoveryChat will celebrate Recovery Month and will be co-hosted by Dr. Westley Clark, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and Kathryn Power, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services.

You can participate by following and tweeting with the #RecoveryChat hashtag on Twitter.

SAMHSA also encourages you to share your stories about planning or attending Recovery Month events, key discoveries of what worked or what didn’t work for you or others in recovery.

Many Recovery Month events are family-friendly but only a few are youth-focused, according to the Recovery Month team. In past years, organizations have also hosted kickball games and teen-focused forums.

If you’re not available for the chat, you can tweet your questions to @RecoveryMonth in advance, using the hashtag #RecoveryChat. Or if you aren’t on Twitter, but are interested in asking a question, you can post questions on the Recovery Month Facebook Page or send questions by email

An earlier chat held by SAMHSA in July focused on young people and recovery. The transcript of the chat can be read on the Recovery Month website.

Benjamin Chambers On Supporting SAMHSA in Making Teens a Priority in Block Grants

If you care about adolescent substance abuse treatment (and mental health treatment) this is really important.

As I posted last week, SAMHSA is proposing big changes to its mental health and alcohol and drug treatment block grants. They want your comments by this Friday, June 3, 2011.

Ho-hum, right? Far from it.

First, a little context:

  • The block grants provide a significant proportion of funding for adolescent substance abuse treatment in this country. All that "state" funding that many treatment agencies depend on is actually passed through state agencies from SAMHSA.
  • The guidelines for how the block grants work will set funding -- and service -- priorities for years to come at the national and state level.

The good news is, SAMHSA specifically included youth with substance abuse issues as a priority population when it drafted its proposed changes to the block grants. Here's a direct quote from p. 20,000 of the notice the agency published in The Federal Register seeking comments:

The focus of SAMHSA’s Block Grant programs has not changed significantly over the past 20 years. While many of these populations originally targeted for the Block Grants are still a priority, additional populations have evolving needs that should be addressed. These include military families, youth who need substance use disorder services, individuals who experience trauma, increased numbers of individuals released from correctional facilities, and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals. The uniform plan required in the Block Grant application must address the statutory populations (as appropriate for each Block Grant) and should address these other populations [emphasis added].

The bad news? Rumor has it that SAMHSA is getting pushback from some states who don't want to prioritize these special populations. We need to make sure that youth who need drug and alcohol services are not removed as a priority population -- we need to speak up, loud and clear, and support SAMHSA's original language.

Comments should be sent to Summer King, SAMHSA Reports Clearance Officer, at

The above story appeared in slightly different form on the website of Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system. It has been reprinted with permission.



Helping Kids with Substance Abuse Grant

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Mental Health Services is offering grants for Expansion of the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and their Families. The grants' purpose is development of a comprehensive strategic plan to improve and expand services provided by systems of care for kids. These systems will address substance abuse problems, serious emotional disturbances and families undergoing this pressure. The aim of this grant is to help reduce suicide attempts, enhance contact with police and to improve school attendance. The deadline for this grant is June 2, 2011.

JJIE has written extensively on this subject. For more information please read the following articles: How Prevalent are Substance Abuse and Mental Health Issues in Juvenile Justice?, Ecstasy Sending More Kids to the Emergency Room, and the Straight Dope on Fake Dope.

Traumatic Stress Grant

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services announces a one-year grant to continue and expand grant activities funded under the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative, Treatment and Service Adaption Centers, Category II and Community Treatment and Services Centers – Category III. This grant is to increase activity and services of the nation's child welfare system, juvenile justice/dependency court systems as well as to fund child mental health systems. The goal is to create a national network of grantees known as the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) that works to develop and promote effective trauma treatment, services and other resources, such as child-serving community service systems, for kids exposed to trauma. The deadline for this is June 3, 2011.


Laura Searcy: Underage Drinking Over Winter Holidays on the Rise: Incidents and Issues

The Kennesaw Police Department’s response to a citizen complaint, which resulted in the arrest of 32 people involved in an underage drinking party on December 29, is to be applauded. As law enforcement officers entrusted with maintaining the peace and protecting public safety, the KPD fulfilled their duty by enforcing the law. But recent coverage (in the Marietta Daily Journal) of this incident does not tell the whole story.

“According to estimates from SAMHSA  [the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration] Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), on New Year’s Day 2009, an estimated 1,980 ED [emergency department] visits involved underage drinking, compared with 546 such visits on an average day that year; this represents nearly 4 times the average number of visits….The number of ED visits involving underage drinking was also generally higher on New Year’s Day than on an average day during either the Memorial Day weekend or the Fourth of July weekend.” The report cites “greater access to alcohol, less parental oversight and mixed messages from parents” as influencing this uptick in underage drinking and increased ED visits.

The findings are in line with other research showing more alcohol-related problems over the winter holidays. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism two to three times more people die in alcohol-related vehicle crashes over the winter holidays compared to periods during the rest of the year. Also, traffic fatalities involving an alcohol-impaired driver average 28% in December, but rise sharply to 40% over the holiday period.

Stories and conversations about underage drinking often focus on legal issues, but there’s more; what about the research that indicates the substantial harm alcohol poses to youth and the harm underage drinkers impose on others?  Alcohol is the top threat to youth health and safety in America, causing more injury and death than all illegal drugs, combined. It’s time more people accept underage drinking as illegal and unhealthy and not a harmless and normal rite of passage.


Laura Searcy is a pediatric nurse practitioner and youth injury prevention specialist practicing in Cobb for the past 19 years. She is also a Cobb Alcohol Taskforce board member and former member of the Cobb County Board of Education.

Child Welfare Agencies urged to Test Parents for Drugs

Studies show a majority of kids involved in child welfare services are affected by parents who abuse drugs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

SAMHSA released a new publication, Substance Abuse Specialists in Child Welfare Agencies and Dependency Courts. It recommends a collaboration between child welfare agencies, drug abuse counselors and parents.

“The purpose of co-locating substance abuse specialists is to ensure that parents are assessed as quickly as possible, to improve parent engagement and retention in treatment, to streamline entry into treatment, and to provide consultation to child welfare and dependency court workers,” the publication explains.

SAMHSA has also released Drug Testing in Child Welfare: Practice and Policy Considerations, which urges child welfare agency policymakers to use drug testing in child welfare practices.

Click on each publication title to download an online copy.

Teens Drinking Less in Georgia: Feds Credit Community Teamwork

Underage drinking has declined in Georgia, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

SAMHSA has released a video on the many ways the state of Georgia has successfully fought underage drinking.

“I’m happy to say that Georgia has the lowest reported binge drinking rates of all the states and I firmly believe that this is the result of a concerted effort,” said Brenda J.D. Rowe, Ph.D., Director of Substance Abuse Prevention & Behavioral Development for Georgia’s Department of Human Resources.

The Cobb County Alcohol Taskforce is one of the groups on the frontlines. Coordinator Cathy Fink also sees great progress. A study from 2009 shows that binge drinking among 12th graders went down from 25% to 17% in just one year.

“We’re not interested in claiming credit in whats causing a decline. Its important that we continue to track and follow the trends and to collaborate to move in the right direction,” said Fink.

SAMHSA's website

Other videos by SAMHSA

Cobb County Alcohol Taskforce

Council on Alcohol and Drugs

Georgia Underage Drinking Initiative

FDA Panel Rejects Plan to Curb Teen RoboTripping

Cough medicines containing dextromethorphan will continue to be sold over-the-counter, despite concerns that some young people are using it to get high.  A panel of Food and Drug Administration experts has voted against a proposal that would require a doctor’s prescription to buy Robitussin and 140 other cough medicines. Medical News Today reports some panel members were concerned the move would create too much paperwork for pharmacists and clinics.

When taken in high doses, cough medicines can cause euphoria and hallucinations. Teens abuse it because it’s cheap and easy to get.  But sometimes the trip goes bad, with nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat and numbness. How big is the abuse problem?

  • Three million people between the ages of 12 and 25 used cough medicines to get high in 2006, according to SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  • 8,000 people were treated in hospitals across the country for cough medicine abuse in 2008. That’s a 70% increase over 2004, according to NIH, the National Institutes of Health.
  • One in 11 teens admits to robotripping, according to the Partnership for a Drug Free America.

Read more:

FDA Facts for Teens on Prescription Drugs

Preventing Teen Cough Medicine Abuse - Guide for Parents