Knowledge is power, and a new NIDA educational product empowers teens to make healthful decisions about drugs. "NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse" is an interactive Web site for adolescents ages 11 through 15, as well as their parents and teachers.
To ensure that the NIDA for Teens' content tackles issues of concern to kids, the Institute enlisted teenagers to help with its development. NIDA worked with a University of Baltimore design team that included youths and was funded through a National Science Foundation grant. The young group of content and usability "experts" critiqued and enhanced NIDA's concepts, many of which were based on the highly successful Heads Up campaign that partners NIDA and Scholastic Magazines, Inc., and reaches more than 8 million students a year. The young design team also helped NIDA sharpen the site's design, with an eye toward attracting and informing their media-savvy peers.
Because teens want information, not attitude, the site delivers science-based facts about how drugs affect the brain and body. Animated illustrations, quizzes, and games are used throughout the Web site to clarify concepts, test the visitor's knowledge, and make learning fun. Drugs currently featured on the site are marijuana, nicotine, ecstasy, and anabolic steroids, with sections on inhalants and stimulants coming soon. A primer on "The Brain and Addiction" explains why addiction is a brain disease, summarizing the key concepts of how drugs affect the brain.
"Ask Dr. NIDA," provides NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow's answers to the questions most frequently asked by teens, such as:
- Can one-time drug use lead to addiction?
- What drugs are commonly abused?
- What is withdrawal and how long does it last?
- What are the costs of drug abuse to society?
- If a pregnant woman abuses drugs, will it affect her baby?
In "NIDA for Teens: Real Stories," teens who have struggled with drug addiction share their personal experiences. For example, one teen discusses using and selling ecstasy to feel popular, but ending up completely alone. Another teen tells of smoking marijuana to escape his problems and fit in, but finds there's been a high price to pay for this choice. Still another teen recounts his experience as a top high school athlete who developed a two-pack-a-day habit and now can't run without wheezing (see "Meet Kevin").
On a lighter note, the site features "Have Fun & Learn," which invites teens to join "Sara Bellum" as she explores the brain's response to various drugs. In Dr. NIDA's challenge, teens explore the human body online to discover what happens when someone uses drugs. Visitors are invited to take the challenge to build a better body. NIDA Libs asks teens to fill in the blanks to create an article about marijuana.
The site also offers information for teachers, parents, and others involved in the lives of teenagers to help them better understand the science behind drug abuse by completing activities on the brain and addiction, various drugs, and the physical reality of drug use. Check back often at http://teens.drugabuse.gov, NIDA's site for teens and those who care about them.
If you're looking for the Robinson Rams baseball team during fourth-period lunch, don't bother searching the cafeteria or the practice diamond. On most afternoons, you'll find a handful of the top players from Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Virginia, huddled in a friend's nearby basement. They eat pizza. They play Tony Hawk video games. And always—always—they smoke cigarettes.
"Kids hanging out. Whether it's a party or lunch, there are going to be smokes," says Kevin McNamara, an 18-year-old Robinson senior and a regular attendee at the basement brunch. Kevin is a star member of the school's golf team. He was also the Rams' ace pitcher until he tore a ligament in his knee. And, until recently, he smoked two packs a day. "Kevin's story is not unusual," says Dr. Bill Corrigall, director of NIDA's Nicotine and Tobacco Addiction Program. "Many teens and even pre-teens begin to experiment with smoking, but soon find they are smoking regularly—they're addicted."
"I Want to Quit"
"I used to be able to run a mile under 6 minutes. Now I'm lucky to make it in 8. And I'm wheezing all the way," says Kevin, who's cut his daily use down to 10 cigarettes. "I want to quit. But it's not that easy."
More than ever, teens find that the best way to stop smoking is to never start at all. Teen smoking rates have steadily fallen since 1996, according to a NIDA-funded study. That's the good news. The bad news is that teen smoking numbers are still too high. Each day, more than 3,000 children and adolescents become cigarette smokers, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's more than 1 million teens a year. Roughly one-third of them will die from a smoking-related illness.
"There's hard evidence that smoking leads to addiction, health problems, and death," says Dr. Eric Moolchan, director of NIDA's Teen Tobacco Addiction Treatment Research Clinic. "Teens have a choice: They can become victims, or they can stop before they go too far. Better yet, they never have to start at all."
Volume 19, Number 2 (July 2004)