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Posted on Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 2:59 p.m.

University of Michigan poll: Parents in the dark about teens' marijuana, alcohol use

By Juliana Keeping

Alcohol and marijuana?

Not my kids.

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A new survey by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health suggests parents are in denial when it comes to their teens' drug and alcohol use.

That’s the common attitude of parents, according to a recent poll by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

Ten percent of parents think their 13 to 17 year olds have taken a drink in the last year, while 5 percent guess their teens have used marijuana.

That’s not what the teenagers say.

Fifty-two percent of 10th-grade students have had alcohol within the past year and 28 percent of them have used marijuana, according to the latest results from Monitoring the Future, a separate, long-term study of values and behaviors of American teenagers and young adults by the U-M Institute for Social Research. Each year, the study surveys 50,000 eighth, 10th and 12th grade students on their behaviors.

The latest Children’s Health poll includes findings from a May 2011 poll of 667 parents.

The poll suggests parents may be overestimating drug and alcohol use in other peoples’ children at the same time they underestimate their own teens' drug and alcohol use. The poll found parents believe 40 percent of 10th graders used marijuana and 60 percent had alcohol within the past year.

What does it all mean?

Matthew Davis, M.D., the director of the poll and a U-M professor, said in a news release the results of the poll show the value of public educational campaigns about teen substance abuse. The campaigns should reach out to teens and parents to encourage better communication, he said.

What can be done?

Bernard Biermann, a U-M psychiatry professor and the medical director of child/adolescent inpatient psychiatry unit at U-M, suggested several ways for parents to talk about and monitor substance use with teenagers.

His tips include:

  • When discussing substance abuse with your teenager, talk with them in a nonthreatening way.
  • Look for signs of substance abuse when teens come home.
  • Don’t overreact if there is a single instance of substance use. Biermann instead suggests using the opportunity to discuss the incident in a nonjudgmental way and making yourself a resource for resisting peer pressure.

  • Open the lines of communication with your teenager’s friends and their parents, who may be more willing to share information than your teenager.
  • Educate yourself with resources such the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The resource contains information about common symptoms and signs of substance abuse.

We were all teenagers once. What did, or didn't, work for you when it comes to marijuana and alcohol use? Parents, what do you think of the suggestions offered up in this article regarding teenagers and the use of marijuana and alcohol? Leave a comment and take our poll below.

Juliana Keeping covers general assignment and health and the environment for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter



Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 1:56 p.m.

The use of chemical substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and others pose a problem because they cause drug tolerance and the person experiences a compulsion to try the same substance more frequntly and at a higher dose to obtain the same stimulant effect as obtained before. It is a good idea that parents must be informed about the nature of symptoms associated with substance abuse. However, the problem must be studied at a more fundamental level. The desire, the motivation for seeking mental stimulation with the help of a chemical substance need to be understood. Some people appear to be prone to seek the drug experience. There are others who do not feel any sense of desire to try alcohol, tobacco or other drugs even when they are fully aware of the kind of mental excitement they may provide. Most people try drugs to experience the sense of euphoria which may induce a feeling of relaxation. It appears that people who seek euphoric experience have a tendency to get away from reality. If a person is grounded in reality or is in a quest to find reality, his mind would resist and oppose the desire to find gratification from mentally stimulating substances. To know reality, the mind has to be set free. A mind that is troubled by desires, cravings and appetite for stimulation is not a free mind. To address the problem of substance abuse, I would like to suggest teens and adults to seek the reality of their own existence and the reality of the world and universe in which they exist. The urge to discover the truth has a liberating effect on mind and sets it free.


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 1:33 p.m.

Look, people like to get messed up. Drinking and drugs have been around as long as people have been able to figure out which plants got them feeling nice. Social drinking is encouraged in our culture and binge drinking seems to be idolized by a certain set of people, just as it always has. Every time I turn on the TV, no every commercial break, some drug company is trying to sell me happy pills, or pills to make my leg stop twitching, or to do whatever it is they do (warning: may cause leakage). America is obssessed with drugs and getting drunk and high. All types of things are out there for people to try and I think the key is to teach your children moderation. In other words, teach them not to get stupid with it. Don't lie and tell them smoking pot allows Al-Qaida to make bombs. Don't lie and tell them taking this little pill will make your problems go way either. Tell your kid the truth about drugs while they are still young and they may just remember it when they become a teen and forget everything else. Or maybe not, but I can tell you from personal experience just how ineffective programs like DARE are. Kids aren't stupid (most of them) and telling them how bad marijuana is while condoning alcohol use is ridiculous. Telling kids to stay away from drugs while allowing drug companies to constantly hawk pills to our kids is just foolish and definitely defeats the purpose of DARE and anti-drug campaigns.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 10:03 p.m.

Thinking here for a moment, haven't parents been in the dark about their teens activities throughout history, isn't that how a teen "grows up"? Besides, what's so shocking about this? We allow alcohol, we encourage alcohol, even provide alcohol! It is the REAL gateway drug, and the biggest killer by far!

Michigan Man

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 9:28 p.m.

This is a progressive, chronic and often fatal disease. Very serious public health matter for many young adults. Check out Amy Winehouse life events, pathway and her current status. We do have, however, very good news relative to this public health matter! Treatment works!

John A2

Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 9:07 p.m.

Sorry, but when I was a kid the figure were much higher than that. That number is really too low as far as I am concerned. Kids do what they want to do, and they have a higher chance of doing it if they see there parents doing it.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 8:45 p.m.

Whats the big deal? Its just about legal so why are they hatin on kids. The next thing you know they'll be saying salad's a gate way drug. (Sarc)


Tue, Sep 13, 2011 : 1:44 a.m.

American Psychological Association ---"People take marijuana for the same reason they take other drugs: They make you feel good," Volkow said. That good feeling is tied to the dopamine-based reward system in the brain's nucleus accumbens region. Compounds in marijuana bind to the brain's cannabinoid receptors, triggering dopamine release and resulting in a high. Long-term use of marijuana not only increases the amount of the drug that users need to reach the same high, it also inhibits the brain's natural cannabinoids. As a result, over time users feel dysphoric and "off" if they haven't recently taken marijuana. Marijuana also targets and interferes with cannabinoid receptors in areas of the brain crucial to a number of cognitive functions, especially the cerebellum (movement), hippocampus (memory) and amygdala (emotional control). Interfering with those cognitive processes is particularly dangerous for young people's developing brains, Volkow said, and there's evidence to suggest using marijuana at an early age can have lifetime consequences. Twin studies show that people exposed to marijuana as young teens are more likely to become dependent on other drugs, such as cocaine and painkillers.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 8:22 p.m.

Parents who are in the dark about substance abuse with there kids, whether it be alcohol, weed or something harder have only themselves to blame. If they wanted to know about it they would.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 8:20 p.m.

Why worry about it? It's a harmless, natural drug that's no worse than cigarettes and alcohol if I understand the pro-marijuana crowd's thinking correctly. I personally know of teenagers who have obtained medical marijuana cards for their asthma, headaches, etc... 70% of the residents of this state voted for it so why should they be surprised that their kids are using it? You're either for it or against it. Why even have the discussion anymore? My son was literally hooked on it for two years and quite frankly it made him stupid. But i've been told it was his responsibility to moderate himself and he just couldn't handle it. After two years I'm finally seeing him pick-up where he left off in life. Don't lecture me if you actively smoke it. I'd rather deal with alcohol, I have experience with both drugs with him, and hands down the alcohol has been an easier battle with less noticeable after effects from a cognitive perspective.


Mon, Sep 12, 2011 : 7:58 p.m.

The best way to minimize teens' drug and alcohol use is for parents to minimize their own drug and alcohol use. Lead by example.