A Generation of Addicts

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We are raising a generation of addicts, and we'd better do something about it, starting now. A new federal survey has found that more and more teens are smoking pot, abusing pain pills and using illicitly-obtained stimulants used to treat attention deficit disorder. 15.9 percent of tenth graders reported using marijuana in the last month. The percentage of eighth graders who considered using ecstasy once or twice a dangerous activity decreased from 42.5 percent in 2004 to 26 percent in 2009. It isn't just drugs our kids are addicted to. Kids now play what's called "the choking game" with greater frequency, too. This "game" (which it isn't) involves them choking one another or using improvised nooses to cut off oxygen to the brain and feel "high." Teens are also using food as a drug, with obesity rates soaring. It seems as though they are saying in large numbers that anything will do to get them away from reality. But I don't think marijuana or pain medication or stimulants or the choking game or fast food are the biggest "drugs" to which kids are addicted. They are using their iPods, DSIs, YouTube, reality TV and celebrity escapism in order to shut down their minds, avoid their feelings and substitute the "high" of technology and entertainment. The price of a generation of addicts is incalculable. We have to expect that teenagers using pot and Adderall and Percocet and choking and 21st century versions like Facebook will face an increased rate not only of substance dependence, but of depression and anxiety and their physiological brethren-from hypertension to cardiac disease to malignancy. We have to expect higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, as young people turn to sex to feel better, too. We have to anticipate more violence, as young people evolve into adults with little experience managing their anger and a higher likelihood of turning to street drugs to try to contain that and every other uncomfortable feeling. More than one of my young patients tell me they participate regularly in "Live Action Role Play," in which a group of teenagers conspire to pretend to be people other than who they really are-nearly full-time. So a cashier at a grocery store can be treated by his friends like a rock star, complete with text messages asking where he's headed on tour. It isn't just teens, either. Kids are getting into the "act." Club Penguin gets them ready to treat animated creatures like real pets-as in, to not care about real life any more than bright images on a screen. Cell phones put instant messaging in the hands of 9-year-olds and remove them from face-to-face or even voice-to-voice communication. All of this activity can be reduced to one basic behavior: Getting high, as in, intoxicated. We may not see it that way today, but we surely will, looking back, from some very complicated and painful tomorrow. Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be emailed at info@keithablow.com.