New study links early marijuana use to violent behaviors and gang activity.


New Report Shows Teens Who Use Drugs Are More Likely to Engage in Violent and Delinquent Behavior

(Philadelphia, PA)-John P. Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy, today released a new Special Report showing that teens who use drugs are more likely to engage in violent and delinquent behavior and join gangs. Early use of marijuana - the most commonly used drug among teens - is a warning sign for later gang involvement.

The report, "Teens, Drugs, and Violence," released by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) today in Philadelphia, shows that teens who use drugs are twice as likely to commit violent acts than those who do not. It also shows that the more drugs a teenager uses, the more likely they are to engage in violent behavior. They are also more likely to steal and use other illicit drugs and alcohol than non-users.

"It is time - in fact, it is past time - for us to let go of 60's-era perceptions about marijuana," said ONDCP Director John Walters. "Today's research shows what too many families and communities have had to learn through painful experience: Drug use by teenagers isn't a 'lifestyle choice' or an act of 'personal expression;' it is a public health, and, increasingly, a public safety dilemma."

Although overall teen drug use has declined by 23 percent in five years and youth marijuana use is down by 25 percent over the same time period, more teens use marijuana than any other illicit drug. Research shows that other than alcohol, marijuana is the most widely used substance in gang life, and children who use marijuana are nearly four times more likely to join gangs.

The report also shows:

  • Teens who use drugs, particularly marijuana, are more likely to steal and experiment with other drugs and alcohol, compared to teens who don't;
  • One in four teens (27%) who used illicit drugs in the past year report attacking others with the intent to harm;
  • Nearly one in six teens (17%) who got into serious fights at school or work in the past year report using drugs;
  • Teens who use marijuana regularly are nine times more likely than teens who don't to experiment with other illicit drugs or alcohol, and five times more likely to steal; and
  • Teens who do abstain from drug use, particularly marijuana use, function better than users during the transition to young adulthood.

"As our city works to create the Blueprint for a Safer Philadelphia, it's important to examine this link between teens using marijuana and being more likely to engage in violence," said youth behavior expert Ivan J. Juzang, Founder and President of Motivational Educational Entertainment Productions Inc. "Taking a prevention focus to ending youth violence means providing them with knowledge, support and positive alternatives so that they don't start using marijuana, which ultimately keeps our schools and communities safer."

The report also shows that parents remain the most powerful influence on their kids when it comes to illicit drugs. The majority of teens say the main reason they don't use drugs is fear of upsetting their parents or losing their respect. And teens who are supervised or involved in structured activities during after school hours are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use and violent or delinquent behaviors, than those youth who are unsupervised. Participation in after school activities can actually lead to better grades and improved behavior in teens.

Youth Service America (YSA), an organization that expands the impact of the youth service movement with communities, schools, corporations, and governments, is partnering with ONDCP to promote youth service as a tool to positively engage young people in communities across the United States. To reach parents across the country, YSA will electronically distribute a tip sheet on the benefits of youth service that will reach 9,000 organizations across the country.

"We know that kids who have a connection to their community are more committed to learning and personal achievement," said Steven Culbertson, YSA President and Chief Executive Officer. "Young people are our greatest resource and all have tremendous energy, passion, ingenuity, and idealism to help solve some of our most challenging problems."

With many young people out of school for the summer, ONDCP is calling on parents and community organizations to ensure that teens are supervised and participating in activities that keep them away from drugs and other risky behavior. Traditionally, the summer months are risky times when it comes to drug use. Teen drug use rates have spiked during the months of June, July, and August. Other important steps parents can take to keep their kids drug-free include:

  • Setting expectations and clear "no drug use" rules and enforcing the consequences;
  • Know where your teen is on and offline. Monitor his real and digital world activities, such as Internet usage, text messaging, and social networking sites;
  • Talking to them about the importance of staying drug-free by outlining the risks of drug use and engaging them in regular discussions about rejecting peer pressure to use drugs;
  • Encouraging teens to become involved in productive after school and summer activities and staying in tune with community programs and available opportunities;
  • Staying involved in their teen's life and establishing a regular weekly routine for doing something together; and
  • Being observant and looking for indications that their child may be involved in drugs or other risky behavior.


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