By Sung Min Yoon
In recent years, substance abuse problems have not been regarded as serious social issues in the Korean American community. Korean American parents are not inclined to pay attention to risks of their children’s potential substance abuse problems. In my clinical experiences, however, I have observed that substance abuse rates among Korean American adolescents have been steadily on the rise. It is not a new trend that Korean adolescents abuse prescriptions, alcohol, tobacco as well as other illicit drugs such as marijuana and ecstasy.
One reason for not being sensitive with substance abuse problems is that Asian Americans have been viewed as having lower substance abuse rate compared to other counterparts in total substance abuse statistics. Asian Americans are also widely perceived as model minorities in the United States. In fact, according to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse(2001), the percentages of Asian/Pacific Islanders aged 12 and older who used cigarettes, alcohol, and any illicit drug in the past year equal approximately: 22%, 53%, and 6.5%, respectively as compared with about 31%, 66%, and 12% in the total U.S. population aged 12 and older. Rates of current illicit drug use among the major racial/ethnic groups in 2001 were 7.2% for whites, 6.4% for Hispanics, 7.4% for blacks, and 2.8% for Asians.
Although Asians as a group had the lowest rate of current illicit drug use, there exists variations among the Asian subgroups. For persons aged 12 or older, the rates of current illicit drug use were 1.3% for Chinese, 2.2% for Asian Indians or Filipinos, 3.0% for Vietnamese, 4.5% for Japanese, 5.0% for Koreans, and 5.1% for Pacific Islanders. The rate of Koreans was the second highest only superseded by Pacific Islanders. Furthermore, Koreans’ smoking rate was found as the highest among all Asian subgroups, as was the second highest subgroup superseded only by American Indians. The rate of Koreans who used Marijuana in the past year was 9.2%. This percentage is higher even than Whites(8.9%) and was the highest among all Asian subgroups.
When reviewing the illicit drug use rates of adolescents, alarmingly, Asian-Americans cannot be placed at lowest risk group. According to the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, the prevalence of illicit drug use among Asian-American adolescents aged 12 to 17 was 8.4% which was close to 10.9% for Whites and 10.7% for Blacks. These rates among Asian adolescents are much higher than the usage rates of Asian adults which were 2.4%. Therefore, we can conclude that Asian-American adolescents are exposed to the risks of illicit drug use than Asian American adults. The rates of illicit drug use among Asian-American adolescents are almost equal to the other ethnic counterparts. These Asian-American adolescents, who immigrated in early age or those born in the United States are much likely to be assimilated to American culture and are influenced by peer norms. It is possible for them to be more frequently exposed to the risks of drug use than Asian-American adults.
Substances abused by Korean American adolescents are: cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs, inhalers and hallucinogens. In the United States, 3 out of 10 adolescents aged 12 to 20 reported that they consumed alcohol at least once in the past month. Alcohol is the substance most commonly abused by adolescents. Underage drinking causes many risks such as brain damage, memory loss, learning difficulties, misdemeanors and crimes. Furthermore, when adolescents start to drink at an early age, they would be more likely to be alcoholics in their adult years. Smoking is also one of the most highly abused substances by adolescents. According to a report, smoking rates among adolescents aged 12 to 17 were 13%. The 80 percents of adult smokers reported that they started to smoke before turning 18. Therefore, smoking at an early age can definitely be lead to smoking in adult years. Marijuana is widely used among adolescents as well. In the United States, approximately 20% of 8th graders reported to smoke marijuana at least once. In recent, medical marijuana use has been legalized in 14 states including New Jersey. However, this is strictly limited to chronically ill patients with prescriptions only from doctors. Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level and can cause serious side effects as an illicit substance. We should also be aware of abuse of Ritalin(ADHD mediation), pain killers, cold medicines, bonds and spray paints among adolescents.
Substance abuse among adolescents directly impact side-effects of addictive behaviors and withdrawal symptoms. The indirect symptoms include (but not limited to:) depression, anxiety, suicide, accidents, misdemeanor, and learning difficulties. Therefore, we should help our children to steer clear from substance use.