Teenagers' confidential reports about illicit drug use are used by doctors and public health experts to measure the extent of the problem, and to help teens in trouble. But it turns out that teens fib big time in those anonymous surveys—and their parents do, too.
Researchers asked 432 African-American teenagers and their parents to participate in an anonymous survey about their use of cocaine, opiates, and marijuana, and said they would also be drug-tested. Of the 211 teenagers whose hair was tested for cocaine, 2 said they used it—while 69, or 34 percent, tested positive, according to a new study in Pediatrics. Of the 244 parents tested, 15 said they had used cocaine, while 69, or 28 percent, tested positive.
The parents surveyed were pretty bad at guessing if their child was using alcohol or drugs. For instance, 9.6 percent of the parents said their teenager drank alcohol, while 25 percent of the teenagers said they did. With marijuana, 9.5 percent of parents said their teenager smoked dope, while 17 percent of the teens said they did.
The key take-home here is not so much that teens are using drugs, but that they are not likely to admit it. That's not a huge surprise, given that we're talking about illegal behaviors that can have big consequences. The self-reported drug use in the study was typical of the amount reported in national anonymous surveys of drug use for urban neighborhoods.