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Substance abuse (adolescent)

William Stixrud, Ph.D.

William Stixrud, Ph.D., is a clinical neuropsychologist and director of William Stixrud & Associates in Silver Spring, Maryland, a group practice specializing in learning, attention, and social/emotional disorders. Dr. Stixrud is an adjunct faculty at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Here Dr. Stixrud answers questions
about preventing adolescent substance abuse.

Q: Are we seeing a rise in substance abuse in children and adolescents? 

Dr. Stixrud: Certainly one of the huge stress-related problems that young people experience is problems with drug and alcohol. There’s been a significant change in drinking patterns in adolescents over the last few years, including more binge drinking with the conscious goal to pass out.

When I went to college 30 years ago, young people usually drank for the most part to have fun. Students now are drinking for oblivion.
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Q: And this alcohol abuse is due to stress? 

Dr. Stixrud: We know that people drink, in part, to alleviate stress, which is probably why there is such good evidence that the Transcendental Meditation technique is extremely effective in helping to prevent and to treat addictive behaviors.

Stress not only places young people at increased vulnerability to abusing drugs or alcohol, but the stress hormones seem to interact with alcohol and drugs to make them more effective and pleasurable. This means that if you’re stressed, you’re more likely to use alcohol and non-prescription drugs, and also, you’re more likely to find real enjoyment in abusive substances because of this interaction between the chemicals you’re taking and the stress hormones. And that’s a horrible double-whammy.
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Q: So how can I protect my children from drug and alcohol abuse? 

Dr. Stixrud: There is probably no way to inoculate every person against drug and alcohol problems, but I think that teaching kids to practice the TM technique can help. With the practice of the Transcendental Meditation program, teenagers can learn to de-stress themselves, and learn to find inner peace and find happiness inside. This is the common experience of meditators all over the world, including young people. When the mind settles down, that peacefulness is very enjoyable; it’s very pleasant. There is sound research on the use of TM to prevent and treat chemical dependency problems in adults, and there is no reason to think that this research wouldn’t be relevant to adolescents as well.
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Q: It seems that alcohol and drug abuse is more harmful to adolescents. 

Dr. Stixrud: Exactly. When it became clear ten years ago that the adolescent brain is still developing very rapidly, scientists thought, “We have to start studying this, because we know that alcohol has a terrible effect on the developing brain in utero; so what does it do to these developing brains in adolescents?”

And the consensus now is that it’s very worrisome. Alcohol has a much, much more deleterious effect on adolescent brains than it does on adult brains. So I think we’re going to see a sea-change, moving away from this idea that “Everybody drinks; no big deal,” to the idea that “We’ve got to protect these adolescent brains from the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol.”

And I see Transcendental Meditation as one tool for doing that, in part, once again, because it regulates the stress response. And secondly, it allows people to experience inner happiness, peace, self-satisfaction, and release from stress—which are the things that many kids seek through the use of drugs and alcohol.
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