Summer is a time of highs. High temperatures. High humidity. Also, it tends to be the most popular season for first-time drug use.
Drug use — including alcohol — rises during the warmer months. People try alcohol and drugs more often then, too, especially in June and July. That may be due to more free time, since the school year is over and teens and college students have fewer responsibilities and more free time.
The beginning of the school year also includes peak months for some drug use, especially cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, and hallucinogens.
Do more people start drugs in the summer months? Sometimes, yes.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) has collected data on first-time use among youth. Findings include:
- Alcohol was most often first consumed in June, July, September, and December
- Cigarette use typically begins in June, September, and October
- Cigars, marijuana, and inhalants are tried most in June and July (marijuana and inhalant use spikes considerably in June)
- Prescription stimulants (such as Adderall) that are taken for nonprescription purposes are first tried in April, November, and December
- Hallucinogens are first tried most frequently in June, July, and October
Using NSDUH data collected from 394,415 people ages 12 and older, the New York University School of Medicine found that 34 percent had taken LSD during the summer. Thirty percent of marjijuana, 30 percent of ecstasy, and 28 percent of cocaine was first tried during the warmer months as well. Researchers collected the data from the years 2011-2017.
Vaping and Cigarettes
Vaping — using electronic cigarettes — is on the rise among teens. In 2018, 21 percent of 12th grade students admitted to vaping nicotine within the past 30 days, according to a survey by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. That’s almost double the amount of 2017’s 11 percent.
Plain old nicotine use — cigarettes, cigars, hookahs, etc. — is also up: 28.5 percent of 12th graders admitted to smoking or vaping in 2018, up from 2017’s 23.7 percent. (Cigarette smoking is down, however; it’s the vaping trend that’s behind the increase.)
Marijuana vaping is also up. In 2018, 7.5 percent of 12th-graders vaped cannabis, an increase from 2017’s 4.9 percent. Other substance use (inhalants, heroin, cocaine, meth, MDMA, etc.) remained steady or declined.
Smoking still remains a big problem. Each day, more than 3,200 people under the age of 18 smoke their first cigarette.
Drinking remains a problem among U.S. youth. Alcohol is the most-used drug. It’s also the most abused, with more than 4,300 underage deaths each year linked to excessive drinking.
Youth from the ages of 12 to 20 drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. They also tend to drink more heavily than adults. Of that group, more than 90 percent admitted to binge drinking. (That’s five or more drinks for males during one occasion, or four or more drinks for females.)
Adolescent Drug Experimentation
A number of potential reasons contributed to a so-called (first time) summer of drugs. Teens and college students tend to have more free time in June and July. Outdoor events such as music festivals were cited as another possible link, since recreational substance use — especially of common illegal drugs such as ecstasy — occurs at many of those events.
It might be hard to prevent someone outright from using — aside from removing them from society entirely — but being informed can help avert many dangers and prevent some of the harm of drug experimentation.
Parents and teachers should be aware of the risks tied to drug and alcohol use, and teens should be informed of them. Strategies for avoiding drug use or overdose include:
- Knowing potentially dangerous side effects
- Keeping company with trusted friends
- Refusing substances from strangers
- Watching drinks and not leaving them unattended
- Drinking nonalcoholic fluids when drinking alcohol
- Getting enough rest
That kind of knowledge can stave off a number of problems, such as sexual assaults, heat stroke, or exhaustion. Sometimes, trying a drug such as MDMA (ecstasy, Molly) after drinking too much alcohol and dancing in scorching summer temperatures can prove dangerous, given alcohol’s diuretic effects. At best, grooving and sweating a lot can wear a body out, but worst-case scenarios can lead to seizures, organ failure, and even death.
Season-based increases in substance use occur. More free time can mean more partying, which means the potential for more drinking. More people seem to relapse from sobriety during that time as well.
Emergency room visits due to acute drug intoxication also tend to climb during the summer. (It is not known whether those are due to first-time or repeated use, though.)
Substance use is more dangerous for youths. The brain may reach 90 percent of its adult volume by the time someone turns six, but the white matter (which acts like the messenger of the brain) and the gray matter (which handles cognition and movement) are still developing throughout adolescence. Drugs and alcohol won’t do a growing body and developing brain any favors.
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- cdc.gov – Fact Sheets – Underage Drinking
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – The Basics of Brain Development
- drugabuse.gov – First Time Drug Use More Common in Summertime
- dea.gov – Growing Up Drug Free: A Parent’s Guide to Prevention
- ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Illnesses and Deaths Among Persons Attending an Electronic Dance-Music Festival – New York City, 2013
- samhsa.gov – Monthly Variation in Substance Use Initiation Among Full-Time College Students
- monitoringthefuture.org – National Adolescent Drug Trends in 2018
- sciencedaily.com – People Are More Likely to Try Drugs for the First Time During the Summer
- npr.org – What Time of Year Are People Likely to First Try Drugs? Summer, Survey Says
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