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Introduction to the Characteristics and Extent of Alcohol, Tobacco or Other Drug Use.
Addiction means physical dependence on a drug, with withdrawal symptoms when its use ceases, and in this sense, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hashish, opiates and amphetamines are all addictive drugs. In addition, these drugs also cause psychological dependency since they enhance a person's sense of pleasure, sociability, sexuality and emotional satisfaction, and also mask pain, low self-esteem and anxiety (Wilson and Kolander, 2011, p. 6). Student surveys are "likely to underreport the overall level of substance use and abuse by young people," and since black and Hispanic students have higher dropout and absenteeism rates, this affects survey results as well (Mosher and Akins, 2007, p. 136). Hard drug users and addicts are also more likely to be homeless, which means that their true numbers are always unknown.
All studies and surveys confirm that marijuana is the illegal drug that high school students will most likely experiment with, and this has been true since 1975. This was most common in the 1970s, but it then fell steady until the early-1990s, when it rose slightly again. About 40-50% of high school students are going to try marijuana at some point, but very few of these are destined to become habitual or regular users, especially as they begin to take on adult responsibilities after age 25. As for other illegal drugs like ecstasy, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and hallucinogens, less than 10% of high school students have ever been likely to experiment with these -- only about 1% in the case of heroin -- and only a small number of these likely to become addicts in the true sense (Mosher and Akins, p. 138). Only about 4% of high school students use marijuana daily, while over half have never tried it al all (Maito et al., 2010, p. 265).
Overall tobacco, alcohol and illegal drug use among high school students has not changed much in the last ten years, and the most at-risk youth for illicit drug use are minorities and the poor concentrated in inner-city slums. In 2007, one study showed that 9.8% of those aged 12-17 smoked cigarettes, 15.9% used alcohol, and 9.5% illegal drugs. All of these rates were higher among 18-25-year-olds, although only 3% of those over 26 used illegal drugs. Binge drinking is also more common among young adults than high school students, and reaches a peak around age 21. Per capita alcohol consumption among high school students has also been declining since the 1980s, and only 9.7% of high school students binge drink, compared to 41.8% of 18- to 25-year-olds and 31.4% of those over age 26. In 2008, 30% of 10th graders and 45.6% of 12th graders reported having been drunk at least once in the past year, while in 2007 15.9% of 12-1y year-olds had been drunk in the past month, compared to 61.2% of 18-25-year-olds (Wilson and Kolander, p. 33). According to most studies "relatively few adolescents in most communities become seriously involved in illegal drugs even though a majority may experiment with some of them, typically marijuana" (Wilson and Kolander, p. 10).
In 2008, 20.4% of high school students smoked cigarettes at least occasionally, while 5.7% smoked half a pack or more per day. This latter group is most likely to go on and became heavy smokers for life, although in 1992 these numbers were 28.3% and 10.7% respectively. Children whose parents and siblings smoke were also more likely to smoke themselves, and this is also true with the consumption of alcohol and other drugs (Goldberg, 2010, p. 146). About 2.7% of high school seniors used smokeless tobacco, down from 5.1% in 1987, with the rate of use highest in the South and among student athletes (Goldberg, p. 147). Few people start smoking after age twenty, and most "who become regular smokers do so by that age" (Wilson and Kolander, p. 6). Tobacco may in fact be the most important gateway drug to experimenting with illegal substances, and "adolescents who don't smoke are unlikely to use other drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine" (Wilson and Kolander, p. 26).
II. Socio-Psycho-Cultural-Philosophical Issues Related to the Problem
Public hostility to drugs and alcohol always increases when they are associated with unpopular immigrant and minority groups or with those lower on the social and economic scale. In the United States, the first drug laws on the state and local levels during the 19th Century were directed at opium smoking by Chinese immigrants. This group was widely stigmatized and hated in any case, denied the right to vote, own land or attend public school, and often treated with lynch mob violence on the Western frontier. Chinese were also the first immigrant group to be restricted by law, in the Oriental Exclusion Act of 1883, and banned outright from immigrating. Most of the Chinese were young, single males, hired as contact laborers to work for low wages on the mines and railroads, and were often not allowed to bring their wives and families to the United States. In this case, the wars against their 'opium dens' was more a factor of racism and moral panic associated with a despised and 'alien' ethnic group, and the history of drug and alcohol policy has numerous examples like these. In the 19th Century, opiates were freely available in drug stores and patent medicines that claimed to cure all diseases, and the typical addict was a middle-aged white woman who consumed these at home, rather than the "lower-class adolescent male" of today (Wilson and Kolander, p. 20). White women were never the targets of moral panics and legal repression, though, compared to Asian opium smokers or black and Hispanic users of cocaine and marijuana.
Per capita alcohol consumption in the United States was much higher in the 18th and 19th Centuries, especially whiskey and hard liquor, although public drinking (and drunkenness) was only socially acceptable for men. Women alcoholics certainly existed as well, but almost always within the confines of the home. On the state and local levels in the 19th Century, the first prohibition laws came into being with the first great wave of Irish and German immigrants in the East, and the mostly white and Protestant temperance advocates truly feared the cultural, social and economic influence of Catholic immigrants from Europe. Racism and discrimination against these immigrants groups was open and blatant well into the 20th Century, and actually intensified with the wave of immigration from southern and Eastern Europe (Wilson and Kolander, p. 18). Nor was it an accident that the prohibition and immigration restriction movements grew up side-by-side, generally consisting of the same people. Not long after national prohibition became the law of the land in 1919, these groups were also successful in restricting immigration to 'Nordic' or 'Aryan' countries through the National Origins Act of 1924. Indeed, without the efforts of the Ku Klux Klan and similar organizations, neither of these laws would have passed at the time they did. Again and again in American history, moral panics and hysteria about drugs and alcohol have been directly related to racism and fears of the 'alien other'. Just as Hispanic immigrants today are always associated with vice, crime and drug abuse, so was every other immigrant group in the past, while fear and hatred toward blacks was often expressed through attempts to control drug and alcohol consumption in the South of the inner-city ghettos. In other words, abuse of drugs and alcohol may not be the real issue at all, but a symptom of deeper fears and resentments within the larger society.
Crack cocaine was generally perceived a as 'ghetto' drug on inner-city youth, and the penalties for its possession and distribution were heavier than for powdered cocaine. Of course, the latter was more expensive, and appealed to young whites of middle or upper class status in the 1970s and 1980s. During the War on Drugs, the U.S. prison population became the highest in the world, and no country incarcerates a larger percentage of its population. In many big cities the majority of young black men are in jail or on probation and parole, while over 70% of the prison population consists of young black and Hispanic males convicted of various drug offenses. A very harsh and regressive drug policy has created a prison-industrial complex in the U.S., with its own lobbyists and contractors demanding harsher sentences and more construction of prisons, which are also being turned over to private contractors. No one really spends much time and effort with rehabilitation, education or drug prevention among these black and Hispanic youth, who have often been locked up for life under the three strikes laws. This is not new in American history, since the double standard and dual system of justice for blacks has always existed in the United States, going back to the time of slavery. Blacks were always more likely to be arrested than whites, more likely to be convicted and receive…[continue]
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