- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

Young men and women are abusing tobacco, alcohol and drugs at the same rate, according a report released yesterday that urged parents to get more involved in the lives of their teenage children.

“The gender gap has closed. Girls are smoking, drinking and using drugs equal to boys,” said Susan Foster, vice president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University and lead author of a new book on women and substance abuse.

CASA’s book, released yesterday during an event on Capitol Hill, documents how women differ from men in their vulnerabilities to substance abuse. It also makes recommendations on how parents, policy-makers, educators and treatment professionals can improve their responses to substance abuse by girls and women.

A separate report released yesterday in New York City by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and Seventeen magazine said teenage girls now match teenage boys in illicit drug and alcohol use, surpass them in cigarette and prescription drug use, and are more likely than boys to start using illicit substances.

“Girls are telling us that they understand the risks associated with drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. But that doesn’t appear to be stopping them from using,” White House drug czar John P. Walters said yesterday.

Susan Molinari, chairwoman of the Century Council, an educational group funded by the distilled-spirits industry, said that, overall, underage drinking has dropped since 1992 among both girls and boys.

However, almost half of mothers think it’s OK for their teen daughters to drink, the council found in a recent survey of nearly 900 mothers and daughters. Moreover, 30 percent of girls ages 16 to 18 said they drank with friends — but only 9 percent of their mothers said they knew about it.

“These data illustrate a disturbing misperception among moms about the seriousness of problems associated with alcohol consumption by their teenage daughters,” said Mrs. Molinari, whose group offers a program called “Girl Talk” to discourage underage drinking.

Parental disapproval of tobacco, alcohol and drugs is a strong influence on teens, as is parental monitoring of teens and their friends, said the ONDCP, which offers parents and community leaders a wealth of anti-drug materials.

At the Capitol Hill event, Joseph A. Califano Jr., CASA chairman and president, said he hoped the group’s new book, “Women Under the Influence,” will stimulate new public attitudes about women and substance abuse.

There is no doubt women can become addicted faster — even with less exposure to substances — and suffer the consequences more quickly, he said.

“If young women knew that, they might be quicker to say, ‘No, I’m not going to have that second beer,’” said Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, Connecticut Republican.

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