NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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Healthy Minds and Bodies

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What’s Dinner Got To Do With It?

How often does your family sit down to eat a meal together? Every day? A few times a month? Never?

It turns out that teens in families that often enjoy a meal together are more likely to share stories about their days—and stay away from drugs.

While teens may want to keep their social lives secret from parents, yearly surveys by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia) show that frequent family meals may help kids talk to their parents about what’s happening in their lives.

Perhaps as a result, those teens who eat with their parents anywhere from 5 to 7 times a week say they are less likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or use drugs than those teens who eat with their families 3 times a week or less.

Highlights from the 2012 report:

  • Teens reporting fewer than 3 family dinners a week are 3 times more likely to say it’s okay for teens their age to use marijuana (14% vs. 5%) and 3.5 times more likely to say it’s okay to get drunk (14% vs. 4%).
  • Teens who eat with their families 5 or more times a week are far less likely to report that they expect to try drugs (including marijuana or prescription drugs without a doctor’s supervision) in the future (8% vs. 17%).

This year’s Family Day, sponsored by CASA Columbia, is September 23, 2013. If you’re already part of a family that dines together regularly, it’s a good day to celebrate. If your family doesn’t eat together so often, why not use the occasion to start a new tradition?

Find more information and some ideas to share with your parents, or “like” Family Day on Facebook.

Do you think it’s important for families to eat meals together? Why or why not? Tell us in comments.

Family eating dinner together.

Tips for Healthier Holidays and a Happy New Year

The holiday season, we are told, is supposed to be bright and full of cheer. As fun as they can be, however, the holidays sometimes can be hard to handle. Even though school is out, the lack of a normal routine and the increase in social obligations can be overwhelming. And sometimes, we feel like we have to be bright and cheerful, even when we feel down. You might even feel “wrong” if you’re not itching to decorate gingerbread houses or throw confetti as the 2012 ball drops. The truth is, many teens—and adults—experience boredom, loneliness, or the holiday blues. Here are some ideas to help you ward off stress and enjoy the holidays:
  • Get some exercise. Community centers and health clubs may offer a special reduced price or free use of a gym for teens at holiday time.
  • Don’t commit to too many parties, events, and get-togethers—everyone needs down time.
  • Keep realistic expectations for getting along with family, and understand that it’s not going to be perfect. When things don’t go your way, ask yourself if it’s worth holding on to your anger or if you can just let it go and enjoy the moment.
  • Chat with friends—talk on the phone, text, or de-stress on Facebook—and plan stuff to do.
Help Others To Help Yourself
  • Volunteer at a community soup kitchen, food bank, or hospital.
  • Start a drive to collect food and supplies for a homeless shelter.
  • Visit a neighbor who may be elderly or impaired, or who may not have family around to help them celebrate.
  • See about helping out families with young children who may need some relief to get dinner cooked or gifts wrapped.
  • Start up a holiday dog-walking service for neighbors going out of town.
Stay Active With Friends and Family
  • Organize a gift exchange or a potluck supper with friends or family.
  • Go caroling, then have the group to your house for hot chocolate.
  • Make your own holiday baking gift packages—pre-packaged ingredients and recipe—to deliver to friends and family.
  • Have a cookie baking contest or crazy cupcake competition.
  • Go sledding, try ice skating, or build a snow fort.
Plan a Fun New Year’s Eve
  • Have a sleepover or invite a friend over.
  • Organize a dance-a-thon at your church, school, or rec center. See if the adults want to offer gift certificates or coupons for dance contest winners.
  • Check to see if there’s a local First Night celebration. First Night is an organization that throws citywide New Year’s Eve activities.
  • Start a tradition in your neighborhood with a flag football holiday bowl league.
Do you have suggestions for getting into the holiday spirit that might help other teens? Let us know. “Leave a Reply” in the box below, or send us a message. As always, we read all of your comments and feedback. Sara Bellum will not post next week. Have happy and healthy holidays, and we’ll see you in 2012. Teen girl looking at christmas ornament

It's Not Just You: The Teen Years Can Be an Emotional Roller Coaster

Ever have one of those days? One minute you’re feeling great; the next, you’re knocked down by a bad grade or a fight with a friend.

Setbacks like these can seem like the end of the world to some teens. Others can bounce back after they’ve had a little time to think and see that the situation isn’t so bad. But not everyone can recover so easily.

As part of National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, the National Institute of Mental Health hosted a panel discussion that focused on what happens when mental health disorders—like depression or anxiety—or drug abuse interfere with the development of the teen brain.

What’s Happening in Your Head?

No one feels good all the time. Teens are particularly vulnerable to a roller coaster of emotions because of major brain changes taking place between the ages of 12 and 25. These emotional ups and downs are all part of normal teen development.

But for teens suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or ADHD, the stresses—from peers, family, or problems in school—may be more than they can handle. Some maystart using drugs or alcohol as a way to cope, or to escape from anger, hurt, or disappointment. However, over time, these behaviors can lead to a bigger problem…addiction.

Pay Attention to Your Feelings

Every brain is different, and just because you feel down or stressed doesn’t mean you’re going to develop a problem. But, whatever you’re going through, it’s important to be aware of your feelings.

Take note if you’re overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, or unfocused. You may just be experiencing the normal emotional reactions to events in your life. However, if these feelings don’t let up, or if you feel like you can’t bounce back on your own, talk to a friend, family member, or someone you trust to help you.

Watch a videocast of the whole discussion about mental health and the teen brain, then share your thoughts with us. What are some things you do to stay grounded when things seem out of control?

Teen emotions

Four Reasons Not To Smoke

Have you noticed that a lot of restaurants don't have indoor smoking sections anymore? More and more cities, counties, and entire states are banning indoor smoking. People everywhere are getting the message: smoking causes disease and death. In fact, it is the number one preventable cause of death in this country. NIDA scientists have shown how incredibly addictive smoking is, especially when people start in their teens—which most that do, get addicted. So protect your health and avoid the hassle and...don't start. It's a no-brainer.

If you need more reasons not to smoke besides smelly clothes and yellow teeth, here you go:

  1. Your wallet. How can you afford that new video game if you're burning cash on cigarettes?
  2. Your athletic ability. Smokers run slower and can't run as far, like being old before you're old.
  3. Your state of mind. It takes just 8 seconds for nicotine from cigarettes to reach your brain and change the way it works. Although scientists aren't totally sure why yet, one study found that teens who smoke a lot are 15 times more likely to have panic attacks than teens who don't smoke. Teen smokers also are more likely to have anxiety disorders and depression.
  4. Your future. Quitting smoking is hard. But the health consequences are even harder to deal with.

If you or any of your friends smoke, know help is out there.  For free quitting support, call 1–800–QUIT–NOW (1–800–784–8669).

a green number four sign

Fear of Stigma: Does It Hold You Back?

If you’re like most people, you may try to avoid revealing anything about yourself that will make people think differently or negatively about you. Basically, you’re avoiding stigma—which is being marked by shame or disgrace.

But what if you have a drug problem and want to get help?

For a long time, our society has “stigmatized” drug use and addiction, judging people with drug or alcohol problems. Fear of being judged can be dangerous if it keeps someone from getting treatment.

One way to combat the stigma associated with drug addiction is to teach people the facts. NIDA science shows that addiction is a disease, just as cancer and asthma are diseases. It’s not just that the person chooses to take drugs. In fact, an addicted person no longer chooses to take drugs—rather, their brains have been altered by drugs to the point where free will has been cruelly “hijacked,” and the desire to seek and use drugs is beyond their control. Addiction is a disease of the brain that manifests itself in compulsive behaviors. Helping people understand this sad truth may lead to more support for those battling addiction.

It’s also important to stop labeling people as one thing or another. Try to avoid saying “addicts.” This label makes it easier to dismiss people as not worthy of help or notice. It’s better to say, people with “drug use problems” or “substance use disorders.” It may be a mouthful, but this phrase makes it clear that these are people who are facing challenges. They are more than just drug addicts.

Do you avoid certain hobbies, interests, or even potential new friends because you’re afraid of what your current friends will think? What would you say to someone who needs drug abuse treatment but isn’t getting it for fear of being judged?

Girl upset because she feels singled out

Stop Distracted Driving: Stay Alert To Stay Safe

We live in a world obsessed with multitasking—people are watching TV while texting their friends while updating their Facebook status while tweeting about the latest celebrity gossip. And some people will even multitask behind the wheel of a car—not real smart, and reeeaaally dangerous. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has even launched a Web site devoted to raising awareness about the problem of “distracted driving:”

What Is Distracted Driving?

Distracted driving is any non-driving activity someone does while driving that could potentially distract them and raise the risk of crashing. Texting and talking on the phone definitely fall into this category, but so does drunk and drugged driving. DOT reports that younger, inexperienced drivers under age 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.

Drugged Driving = Danger

Marijuana happens to be the most prevalent illegal drug detected in impaired drivers, fatally injured drivers, and motor vehicle crash victims. That’s partly because the THC in marijuana can alter perception, attention, reaction time, judgment, and other faculties required for safe driving.

Hopefully, you would never drive under the influence of an illegal drug or alcohol—but that doesn’t mean other drivers are making the same positive choices. If you’ve got your eyes on your phone, you might miss something important right in front of you, like a stopped car or someone driving under the influence—weaving, speeding, crawling, or crossing the center line.

So do yourself, your passengers, and other travelers a favor: put your phone down while you’re driving and don’t get high and get behind the wheel. banner.

Visit for more facts and stats on distracted driving.

Read more NIDA information about drugged driving.

Point of view of a blurry eyed driver.

Your Environment May Influence Drug Use

A NIDA-funded study found that a healthy person was at a higher risk for abusing drugs if a sibling or spouse abused drugs. The closer the siblings are in age, the greater the chances.

Your family life is just one factor that plays into whether you try drugs or stay away from them. Here are some other factors in teens’ lives that may affect the decision:

  • Media influence. People on TV talk about drugs a lot—whether it’s Molly or marijuana or meth. Drugs are in the news and joked about on sitcoms. Some teens might be curious what all the fuss is about.
  • Peer pressure. If your friends are doing it, chances are you are too. It’s not a guarantee, but peer pressure can be tough to resist.
  • Feeling lonely or bullied. Studies have shown that if people feel alone, they may be more prone to use drugs and get addicted. And, teens may mistakenly think that drugs may help them cope with hard times.
  • Being around drugs. Ever promise yourself that you won’t snack on potato chips, but once you see other people eating them, you feel the pull to have one too? It’s the same with drugs—if you’re around people who use them, you may start to feel like everyone is doing it and like it’s no big deal.

If you experience one or even all of these factors, it doesn’t mean that you are fated to use drugs. You can do lots of things to stay away from them, such as join drug-free after-school clubs or talk to a friend, teacher, or counselor if you are going through rough times.

What are your ideas for how to stay away from drugs or resist peer pressure?

Teen feeling left out by a group of young women - peer pressure and bullying can influence drug use

No More Smoking: A "Quit" Coach Is Just a Text Message Away

For anyone who resolves to stop smoking, help is as close as your cell phone.

According to NIDA’s 2011 Monitoring the Future survey results, teen smoking rates are currently at their lowest since the survey began in 1975. However, many teens continue to take up the habit—19 percent of 12th-graders reported past-month cigarette use.

By now, we all know that smoking has negative health effects. These include lung and heart disease and particularly cancer—since cigarettes contain chemicals that are carcinogenic, or cancer-causing. However, when it comes to quitting, the main problem is nicotine. Nicotine is addictive and makes quitting notoriously hard.

Banner to inform about a smoke free support text line.

To help teens quit, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently launched SmokefreeTXT, a free text-to-quit service that sends text messages with encouragement, advice, and tips directly to teens’ cell phones.

How It Works

Sign up at or text “QUIT” to “iQUIT” (47848) and provide the date you smoked last. After that, you’ll receive text messages for up to 6 weeks. Research shows that support for quitting continues to be important beyond the first few weeks.

Smokefree Teen

The text-to-quit campaign is just one feature of a broader effort to encourage teens to quit smoking. NCI’s new Smokefree Teen Web site features information, quizzes, comics, and other resources to help teens understand the decisions they make and to take control of their health.

Smokefree Teen also offers a free smartphone app, QuitSTART—an interactive guide that provides mood management tips, tracks cravings, and monitors quit attempts.

You can find Smokefree Teen on several social media pages to connect other teens with tools to help them quit.Think about “liking” Smokefree Teen on Facebook, even if you don’t smoke, to show support for your friends or family who are trying to quit.

Is 2012 the year of texting for healthy living? Let us know if you think campaigns like these can help you stay committed to your resolutions.


NCI Smokefree Teen Logo

Summertime: Fun and Healthy Ways To Keep Busy

School’s out! It’s time for ice cream, BBQs, and lazy days at the pool.

And then?

After a while, the long hot days of summer can quickly turn boring. And far too often, the boredom and restlessness can lead to taking risks, like drinking or experimenting with drugs.

What to do?

1. Read for fun. OK, so that sounds too much like school…but even comic books or graphic novels can stimulate your brain cells. Check out Dare To Read for the Fun of It for this year’s best-of-the-best young adult books.

2. Find a hobby. Try something new and keep in mind that learning a new skill enriches your life.

3. Do odd jobs for neighbors. Offer to babysit, mow the lawn, weed the garden, or run errands for someone who can’t get around as easily. Why not earn a little extra money over the summer?

4. Volunteer. But money’s not everything. Find an organization you believe in and offer to help. Bonus: It might fulfill a community service requirement for school and look good on your college applications.

5. Sign up for a class. It doesn’t have to be algebra or health. How about a cooking class, swim lessons, or how to produce a video for YouTube? Check out local community colleges or community centers for classes near you.

6. Get moving. Regular exercise is good for your brain, body, and mood. You don’t need a gym—organize a basketball game in the neighborhood; get out your skateboard or bike; or find a new path or trail to explore. Check out the Presidential Activity Lifestyle Award (PALA+) challenge for other ideas.

We bet you have some great ideas for keeping busy during the summer months. Share your best ideas with us and we may highlight them in a future Sara Bellum post.

Girl blowing bubbles

How To Help a Friend in Need

Figuring out what to do when a friend or someone you know is having trouble with drugs or alcohol can be tricky. You want to help, but you might not know how to bring it up. Here are some tips.

Listen. If he talks to you, just be there for him. Admitting a problem—never mind talking to someone about it—is really hard. Listen to what he has to say about his drug use without making judgments.

Encourage. Suggest that she talk to an adult she trusts—a coach or teacher, a school counselor, a relative, or a doctor.

Share. Maybe your friend doesn’t see his or her drug use as a bad thing. But plenty of real scientific information about what drugs can do to a person is on the NIDA Web site. Once your friend understands how drugs affect the brain, body, and life, it might open their eyes.

Inform. When he’s ready to make a change and seek treatment, help him find a doctor, therapist, support group, or treatment program. You can use SAMHSA’s Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator or call 1–800–662–HELP.

Support. Don’t give up on your friend, even if she isn’t ready to get help. Keep reaching out. Encourage them to get treatment, and support them along the way—that’s the best way to help someone you care about who is struggling with addiction.

boy and girl hugging

Are You Addicted to Your Cell Phone?

A phobia is a strong, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. Phobias can cause a lot of anxiety, panic, and even fainting. You may have heard of some phobias, such as arachnophobia (fear of spiders) or claustrophia (fear of confined spaces).

But have you ever heard of nomophobia—the fear of being without your cell phone? We’ve all had that anxious feeling when you’ve lost your phone or accidentally left it at home. But does your anxiety increase to the point of being a phobia?


Nomophobia—an abbreviation of “no-mobile-phone-phobia”—is also called “cell phone addiction.” Symptoms include:

  • Experiencing anxiety or panic over losing your phone
  • Obsessively checking for missed calls, emails, and texts
  • Using your phone in inappropriate places like the bathroom or church
  • Missing out on opportunities for face-to-face interactions

A recent survey found that two-thirds of people in the United Kingdom experience nomophobia. That number increases to 77% for young people age 18‒24. Cell phone use is definitely increasing everywhere, especially among teens…overall in the U.S., 75% of all teens text, sending an average of 60‒100 texts per day.

Is Nomophobia Real?

Researchers debate whether nomophobia is a real addiction. Addiction to drugs stems from their causing dopamine to flood the brain—which can trigger euphoria and a strong desire to repeat the experience. Researchers question whether the anticipation or rush of receiving an email, text, or Facebook status update may also trigger release of dopamine. But no studies have examined the issue.

So, what do you think? Do you believe nomophobia is real? Do you know people who are addicted to their cell phones? Are you?

girl looking at a cell phone

Truth in Advertising? Super Bowl Alcohol Commercials

Everyone knows that many of the fans of football’s biggest game are there for the commercials. Companies selling all types of goods—from cars to snack foods to insurance—pay top dollar (more than $2 million for 30 seconds in 2011) to spread the word about their products.

Alcohol companies are part of this media frenzy, and their messages reach all members of the TV audience—from adults to teens to young children.

Even adults have a hard time separating the myths of marketing from the truth, so see if you can figure out how the company is trying to make you want what they’re selling. Below are several real-life examples to test your skills.

2011 Super Bowl Alcohol Ads

During the Green Bay Packers’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the audience saw five alcohol ads. Here are four:

The Ad: A woman and man have won a home makeover and the only change made was to put a bucket of Bud Light on the kitchen counter. The “host” of the home makeover show states that they gave the room “a fun vibe” and “clearly this is the room people want to hang out in.”

The Message: This one’s pretty obvious. Alcohol = fun = partying with more friends.

The Ad: A friend dog-sits for someone and is invited to drink the Bud Light in the freezer. Cut to a party scene with lots of attractive people being served by dogs, who have gone up on two legs to become waiters and bartenders.

The Message: This ad uses humor as its main vehicle. The dogs are funny to watch, and while the scene is absurd—obviously a dog could never serve someone a beer—the implication is that alcohol is a fun, light-hearted, even “fantastical” treat.

The Ad: Movie star Adrien Brody serenades a roomful of women with a romantic tune—only for the ladies to find out that he’s actually singing to a glass of beer.

The Message: Alcohol is romantic. This ad may appeal to women and teen girls more than men, as the ladies in the room clearly swoon for the singer.

The Ad: It’s the Wild, Wild West, and a villainous cowboy enters a saloon and threateningly asks the bartender for a “Bud.” Upon hearing the bar is out of that particular drink, the cowboy fingers his holstered gun until a deliveryman—who arrives in a wagon pulled by the ever-popular Budweiser Clydesdales—enters with an icy case of Budweiser. The scary cowboy starts to sing and soon the whole bar is harmoniously singing along.

The Message: Lack of alcohol is a serious mistake, a critical missing piece. And once alcohol is produced, all hostility melts away—implying that alcohol is a cure for problems and that it brings people together.

To cut to the truth about alcohol, check out The Cool Spot, a Web site for teens from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Football gear

Designated Driver = No Alcohol

The holiday season is upon us once again, and alcohol often is served at parties and family gatherings. There’s usually a surge in drunk driving accidents during the month of December. And, sadly, drunk driving deaths increased last year—10,322 people were killed in drunk driving crashes in 2012.

Drunk driving crashes can be easily avoided—all people need is a “designated driver.”

A designated driver is someone who doesn’t drink alcohol (or use drugs) at an event and is responsible for driving people who have been drinking. Everyone who drinks alcohol and needs to get home, whether it’s from a relative’s house or a restaurant, needs a designated driver. It doesn’t matter if the person drinking is 21 years old or 70.

The troubling thing is, a new study of designated drivers found that 35% of them drink alcohol before driving. These designated drivers just don’t drink as much as those they are driving. But even a little drinking before driving is dangerous.

Even if someone isn’t “drunk”—officially defined as when they have a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher—their driving skills may be affected by the alcohol they drank.

In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board wants to lower legal blood alcohol content to .05, because drivers at the current legal limit of .08 still get in accidents, some of which result in death.

What does all this mean? The bottom line is never to get into a vehicle with a driver who has been drinking—even if it’s a friend, sibling, aunt, or grandparent. There are always alternatives—never hesitate to call a taxi or another person to pick you up.

Tell us: What are your strategies for not riding with someone who has been drinking alcohol?

Someone handing car keys to designated driver

Teen Dating Violence—Help Prevent It

Did you know that alcohol and drugs play a major role in increasing violence toward a partner in a relationship? February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, designed to raise awareness about this and related issues.

So, how do drugs and alcohol play a role? One study found that, in junior high and high school, teens who drank alcohol before age 13 were more likely to be both victims and abusers when it comes to physical dating violence. Another study found that teenage girls in abusive relationships are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, have eating disorders, engage in unsafe sexual behaviors, and attempt suicide.

Unfortunately, the number of teens who suffer from abuse in relationships is not small: nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced physical, emotional, and sexual violence in a relationship during their adolescent years. Many of the contributing factors are preventable, and NIDA needs your help to spread the word and stop the violence.

What Are the Warning Signs?

Here are some signs that a partner might have abusive tendencies. He or she may:

  • Be unable to control his or her anger or frustration.
  • Lack social skills.
  • Use drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Be extremely jealous, insecure, or possessive.
  • Constantly put you down.
  • Check your personal email or phone without asking permission.
  • Isolate you from your loved ones.

Although some of these characteristics might sound common, they are extremely unhealthy. If you or someone you know is in a relationship where one person acts like this, there are places you or your friend can go for help.

2012 Teen dating violence awareness month banner

What Can I Do To Help?

Creating awareness about dating violence among teens can help prevent more teens from getting physically or emotionally abused in their relationships. For example, you might talk to your guidance counselor about hosting an event at your school. The Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month’s website provides free materials to help get your event started.

Or, try talking to someone in your school’s newspaper office to see if they’d be willing to publish an article about teen dating violence. Anything you do to help create awareness could have a positive impact on someone you know.

How Can I (or Someone I Know) Get Help?

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please seek help. Many organizations are willing to provide a free, safe space, as well as counseling. You can call the 24-hour National Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474 or go to for live chat support. Help is only a text message away. Text “loveis” to 77054 to begin texting with an advocate who can help you.

Also, check out the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Relationship Violence Toolkit.

The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women offers more detailed information on dating violence.

Teens holding hands

Being a Team Player Can Influence Drug and Alcohol Use

Middle and high school teens have many choices when it comes to extracurricular activities. Some will choose a team sport like basketball, volleyball, football, or softball, while others may choose more individual-type sports like track, golf, tennis, or swimming.

Either way, being an athlete can be a positive experience—it teaches the importance of cooperation and practice, and how to win and lose gracefully—and it helps keep your body healthy. A recent study reports it may also influence decisions about using drugs like cigarettes, marijuana, or alcohol—but the news is not all good.

The good news is that researchers found that students who participate in team sports or exercise regularly report much less cigarette smoking than students not involved in sports. Also, fewer student athletes used marijuana.

The bad news is that the same study showed the reverse when it comes to drinking alcohol—that student athletes were much more likely to drink alcohol than non-athletes. This may be because team sports often involve alcohol—while watching the event or celebrating afterwards. That’s why beer companies are major sponsors of pro sports teams.

Drugs and Alcohol Can Slow You Down

By now, most of us know that smoking cigarettes affects athletes’ abilities in several ways, causing problems with breathing and endurance, for example. And marijuana can compromise your balance, perception, and memory, making it hard to be physically or mentally at your best in competition.

However, as the study points out, some high school athletes don’t realize that drinking alcohol also impairs both physical and mental conditioning.

Bottom line: Your body and brain may not respond the way you need them to after you use drugs or drink alcohol.

Knowing the Facts Leads to Winning Choices

Whether you play sports or not, making healthy choices is up to you. So think about this: Are you more likely to drink or smoke if your friends do? How does being part of a team or group influence you?

Football player

Who Gets Fooled by Flavors?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (known by most people as the "FDA") has banned cigarettes with flavors that make them taste like fruit, candy, or clove. Which reminds me…real candy and fruit are soooo much better…but this ban does raise some questions—so, in case you were wondering:

Who is smoking flavored cigarettes? Studies show that 17-year-olds who smoke are three times more likely to use flavored cigarettes as smokers over 25. In fact, some people think cigarette companies add the flavors as a way to get teens to try smoking. The FDA says young people are twice as likely to report seeing advertising for these flavored products, so the cigarette companies are obviously putting the ads in places that are popular with teens. (Hmmm, pretty sneaky).

Why ban the flavored cigarettes? 3,600 young people start smoking each day, and almost all adult smokers (90 percent) started smoking as teenagers. If the idea of flavors encourages kids to smoke, many of them will keep smoking and face a lifelong battle with nicotine addiction (hardly worth it).

Do the flavors make the cigarettes any safer? No way! They are just as toxic as ever. In fact, the flavors might hide some of the bad taste of cigarettes, so in a way they are more dangerous.

How will they enforce this ban? The FDA encourages people to report continuing sales of flavored cigarettes through a special tobacco hotline (1-877-CTP-1373) and website. You can learn more about the risks of flavored tobacco products at Might even make a great report for health or science class!

What does SBB think about flavored cigarettes? The companies that make these flavored cigarettes think they are pretty smart, trying to make money off of teens who think "candy, fruit and clove" sound like fun. However, smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined.*

So don't be "tricked" into smoking by the lure of flavored cigarettes.

*Flavored Tobacco Product Fact Sheet

Flavored Cigarettes

Are You Sure You Want To Drink That?

At first glance, energy drinks seem like a great idea—they give you increased energy without sleep—but be careful. A fast-growing number of people are ending up in the emergency room because of them, according to a new report.

The Facts

In 2011, there were 20,783 ER visits because of energy drinks. That’s enough people to fill half of the average Major League Baseball stadium.

  • 42% of those visits involved the mix of energy drinks with alcohol or other drugs.
  • The other 58% of visits resulted from negative reactions to energy drinks alone. Reactions to the large amount of caffeine included insomnia, headache, fast heartbeat, and seizures.
  • Most of these ER visitors were young adults age 18–25; however about 1,500 were teens (age 12–17).

What You Need To Know About Energy Drinks

The high level of caffeine is what makes energy drinks potentially dangerous. Caffeine isn’t harmful in small amounts, but with energy drinks, a person could easily consume a lot of caffeine in a short amount of time.

  • Energy drinks can have as much as 5 times the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee.
  • Research shows that among college students, drinking energy drinks has been associated with risky behavior, including things like fighting and abusing drugs.
  • When energy drinks are mixed with alcohol, the caffeine can hide the symptoms of drunkenness, such as feeling sleepy, which can cause someone to drink more than they intend.

Do any of your friends drink energy drinks? How do they act afterwards?

Nurses bringing patient down hospital hall

Product Placement – Sneaking Messages To Your Brain

So you’re watching American Idol and you notice that the judges are all drinking from Coke cups. It’s pretty obvious that Coca Cola paid for that not-so-subtle endorsement. Well, that is called “product placement,” and it’s everywhere---it’s also nothing new… Some people who’ve studied this believe that the first product placement in America happened in 1909, when the tobacco industry advertised on baseball cards. More than 100 years later, the tobacco and alcohol industries are sneaking their products into music and movies to influence people to buy them. Unfortunately, it seems to work: research shows, for example, that teens who see a lot of smoking in movies are more likely to start smoking themselves—good business for tobacco companies, since they can make more money when smokers start young. Check out NIDA’s Drugs: Shatter The Myths brochure, which mentions a study showing that of the top 90 movies released within the past two decades, 70 percent showed characters smoking, and 33 percent showed people getting drunk. The study also looked at music and found that 33 percent of songs have some mention of drug, alcohol, or tobacco use (75 percent of rap songs). Here’s a different idea: think for yourself and make healthy choices about what to put in your body.

Words Can Hurt: Drug Rumors and Stigma

In today’s celebrity-obsessed culture, not a day goes by that some news or gossip site isn’t wondering about who’s using drugs or trying to quit using them. People tweet and retweet information that may or may not be true—from unconfirmed rumors about Zac Efron going to rehab for alleged cocaine abuse to Lamar Odom’s alleged drug use ruining his marriage to Khloe Kardashian.

In high school, the atmosphere is pretty much the same. On Monday morning, everyone’s talking about what everyone else may or may not have done over the weekend. It doesn’t take long for rumors to spread through the halls. Some rumors turn out to be true; others end up way different from what really happened.

Some rumors are harmless gossip; others have potentially life-changing consequences, such as if a rumor starts about a classmate using drugs.

Drug use is a big deal. Not only can it lead to addiction, it can also change the way people look at a person. This is called stigma. The reality is, people who use drugs need support and treatment, not to be judged and shamed. But that’s not usually how people react to a person’s rumored drug use. They may start to look at the person as unreliable, even dangerous.

It’s bad enough for a person who actually is using drugs. If the person is just the victim of an untrue rumor, they may feel helpless to set the record straight.

Once a rumor is posted to Facebook or Twitter, it can take on a life of its own. Suddenly, what started as whispers in the locker room now is out there for everyone to see—parents, teachers, employers, even admissions officers at colleges. If someone hears about a person using drugs, they may be less likely to trust the person, hire them, or even accept them into college.

A rumor can be almost impossible to fight against. It may cause someone to lose friends and opportunities. That’s why it’s best not to talk about people behind their backs or to believe a rumor without evidence that you see yourself.

If you hear about a classmate using drugs, does it change your view of him or her? What can you do if you are a victim of a false rumor? Tell us in comments.

Teen girls gossiping about another girl

Super Bowl Commercials: Which Do You Remember?

Each year, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl are particularly memorable. They ought to be! Did you know that 30 seconds of ad time during the 2012 Super Bowl cost approximately $3.5 million? Most of us will never see that amount of money in a lifetime—let alone in half of 1 minute! The Drug Free Action Alliance surveyed approximately 40,000 6th–12th grade students in 42 states to find out which commercials shown during the game between the New York Giants and New England Patriots were their favorites, as well as which commercials they could best remember. Cheesy Chips and Dancing M&Ms Commercials advertising snack foods fared well in the “favorites” category. Both middle and high school students ranked M&Ms and Doritos ads as their top three picks. More concerning than processed cheese and sugar-coated chocolate: Both groups also ranked a Bud Light commercial as their next favorite. Not surprisingly, high school students ranked Bud Light commercials in second place as those they could remember the best. For middle school students, Bud Light ranked third for being remembered the best. Stay Media Savvy What does this survey tell us? It indicates that teens remember advertising about snacks and alcohol, and that these ads are clearly appealing to the teen audience. They often feature humor and animals, as one of the year’s Bud Light commercials did—depicting a rescue dog fetching beers for his owner and other partygoers. As SBB reminded you after the 2011 Super Bowl, every commercial is trying to sell you something, whether an actual product or an idea. As viewers, we need to stay alert to media messages so we don’t get hijacked by a media blitz. Whenever you see a commercial, ask yourself these questions:
  • What’s the purpose of the ad—who created the message and why?
  • What words, images, or sounds are used to make the message appealing?
  • How does the message make me feel?
Now you tell us: What Super Bowl commercials do you remember most, and what do you think their intended messages were? Commercial on television

Assert Your Independence: Say No to Alcohol This July 4th

For many Americans, celebrating the Fourth of July includes fireworks, parades, sparklers, and backyard picnics. Alongside the hotdogs and potato salad, though, usually sit bottles of beer.

Alcohol is often a part of our cultural celebrations. When someone gets married, we toast the happy couple with champagne. Many people binge drink on St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo. Wherever someone is celebrating, chances are, alcohol is there.

Statistics PDF [138.44 KB] show that the Fourth of July is no exception. Teens and adults alike can end up in unhealthy situations from celebrating with alcohol. During the holiday weekend of July 3–5, 2009, an average of 942 ER visits occurred per day related to alcohol use by people under age 21—two-thirds by young men, which is double the usual number for this group.

The Risks

When people see others around them drinking alcohol, it can seem like alcohol is harmless. NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study shows that in general, most 12th graders don’t see binge drinking on weekends PDF [1.64 MB] as being very risky. The study also shows that such thinking makes drinking alcohol more likely.

In fact, alcohol is illegal for teens and can alter the developing brain. Further, drinking heavily can lower inhibitions and open the door to taking more risks—such as driving or riding with someone when you really shouldn’t be.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Fourth of July holiday period (July 2–6) is particularly deadly. During the 2010 holiday, 392 people were killed in car crashes, 39% involving a driver with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher, which qualifies as a DUI offense.

This Fourth of July, set the example for your friends: Opt for a cold lemonade, and stay safe.

Want More?

Check out these resources about alcohol and underage drinking:

Fourth of July Celebration

Word of the Day: "AIDS"

AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It’s a disease caused by the HIV virus, which breaks down the body’s immune system, or our natural defenses against disease. Without our immune system, our bodies cannot fight off illness.

HIV used to be thought of as a disease that happened only to injection drug users and gay men. That is not true. In fact, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control, heterosexual contact between men and women accounted for the second biggest chunk (31%) of all new HIV infections in 2006—more than twice the rate of infections among intravenous drug users. And guess which age group had the most new HIV infections? Young people ages 13-29. In particular, adolescents who have unprotected sex are putting themselves at increased risk of getting HIV.

NIDA research backs this up. It shows that teens like Kim and her friends who drink or use drugs may be putting themselves at a higher risk for contracting HIV, because being high or drunk can lead to having risky sex. To learn more about the link between HIV/AIDS and drug abuse, check out NIDA’s Learn the Link campaign, and get to know the facts on how our decisions, however small they may seem, can majorly affect our health.

girl with her hand on her forehead showing she is upset and sad

Expectations and Alcohol: The Fun May Be in Your Head

Some common reasons people give for why they drink alcohol in social situations include:

  • I feel more outgoing.
  • It loosens me up.
  • I have more fun.

Lots of factors play into people’s expectations of alcohol’s supposed power to make them more social—from advertising to teen party movies, the alcohol industry has a lot to gain from making people believe positive things about alcohol.

In fact, research shows that a person’s expectations of how they will feel after drinking alcohol may have more to do with their experience, and how much fun they have, than the alcohol itself. Although alcohol does create an initial “buzz,” it also slows a person down and makes them feel tired.

A recent study looked at college students’ expectations about alcohol and how those expectations influenced how much the students drank. Part of the experiment involved giving some students alcoholic drinks and others non-alcoholic drinks. Neither group knew which type they received. In the end, students had a hard time identifying whether they were drinking alcohol or not.

And guess what? Those who consumed non-alcoholic drinks had just as much fun as the ones who consumed alcohol.

This means that if you go out expecting to feel social and outgoing, you likely will feel that way, regardless of whether you drink alcohol—or not.

Woman celebrating at a party

Let's Talk: How Do You Kick Back?

It’s a known fact that the teenage years are a big transition time of physical and mental development for both males and females. It is a time of trying new things, meeting new people, exploring the world around you, figuring out who you are and who you want to be as an adult, and testing limits that come with independence. Occasionally, we ask you for feedback so that we can get to know you better and publish posts that interest you.

So, today we want to ask: how do you kick back and relax with your friends?

Do you like to get together with friends before a big game at school? Do you play sports? Hang out at the mall or go see movies? Do you like to have time alone to write in a journal or read? Are you cool with having parents around when someone has a party?

To answer the question, either submit a comment by writing your response in the “Leave a Reply” box below, or send us a message. As always, we read all comments and consider all feedback.

Remember, you can look at previous questions we’ve asked at any time! Whether you respond to an older post or the newest post, we always look forward to hearing from you.

teens talking on phones

Like an Olympian: What Makes a Person Successful?

This week, the world is watching as athletes from around the globe compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The measure of success for Olympians is very clear: They must be the best athlete in their sport. They must move the fastest, go the farthest, or score the most points.

Ready, Set, Goal

Becoming an Olympic athlete requires intense drive, determination, and talent. It also requires the ability to set and achieve goals, like practicing every day or eating healthy foods.

We can’t all be Olympians, but we can all strive to be the best version of ourselves by using our own talents and determination. You get to decide what makes you successful. And, like Olympians, you set goals that will help you succeed personally—whether it is to improve grades, learn to snowboard, or volunteer more in the community.

Research tells us that we are more driven and do better when we have clear, challenging goals. It’s also very important to have a way to measure progress; for example, you could get feedback about how you are doing from people you trust, like friends, parents, or coaches. This will tell you what you need to do to get better—and each step puts you that much closer to achieving that goal.

Sticking with your goals will also build your self-esteem. Achieving a tough goal gives you the confidence to tackle other challenges in your life.

Setting “S.M.A.R.T.” Goals

Not sure where to start? Setting “S.M.A.R.T.” goals will help you accomplish what is important to you.

  • S = Specific: Create a very clear, specific goal.
  • M = Measureable: Select a goal that is measurable so you can track progress.
  • A = Achievable: Confirm that the goal is realistic and attainable.
  • R = Relevant: Ensure that the goal means a lot to you.
  • T = Time-Targeted: Set a date that you would like to complete the goal.

Once you have a clear picture of what you consider successful and a S.M.A.R.T. goal to pursue, you can begin creating a plan of action to make it happen.  Be proud of yourself and celebrate each milestone you hit along the way.

Missing the Mark

Accomplishing goals is hard work. Sometimes we get tired and slip up. It’s frustrating when you fall short. But just because you hit a setback doesn’t mean you should give up. You can always regroup and start again.

Some Olympians under extreme stress to succeed turn to performance-enhancing drugs—like anabolic steroids, stimulants, or even methamphetamine—to help them perform better. This is cheating, and cheating does not equal real success. In fact, these kinds of drugs cause more harm than good to your body and life. Other substances like marijuana, tobacco, or alcohol also can mess up your plan and cause you to lose focus.

It’s best to keep a clear head, adjust your plan, and try again.

How do you define success for yourself? What’s your personal goal and what are you doing to achieve it? How do you think drugs could affect your ability to meet goals?

Olympic Skier

Scare Tactics: Does Fear Influence Your Opinion About Drug Abuse?

For decades, organizations have used scare tactics to discourage teens from abusing drugs. One of the earliest examples is Reefer Madness—a film produced in the 1930s and re-released in the 1970s—that depicted a series of exaggerated (and tragic) events happening to high school students who tried marijuana. In the 1980s and 1990s, the infamous “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” public service announcements (PSAs) aired on television, showing a parent frying an egg in a pan. These days, you can still see graphic PSAs on television or on the Web that show the dire consequences of drug abuse—such as PSAs from The Meth Project. Does Fear Drive Behavior? Scare tactics attempt to use fear to motivate behavior change. They create fear by presenting a behavior, like drug use, that can cause severe physical or emotional injury (overdose, lost relationships), and then they recommend a specific action to prevent the injury (like “don’t take drugs”). Researchers have studied the effect of scare tactics on young adults and found mixed results—some found that fear influenced behavior, others did not. It depends on whether teens perceive a threat to their safety and how they react to that threat. When faced with scare tactics in drug abuse prevention messages, some teens will feel a commitment (or a re-commitment) to stay away from drugs. Others will reject the message and either deny that abusing drugs is dangerous or deny that they will suffer the worst effects of drug abuse (“that won’t happen to me”). Some may laugh at drug abuse prevention messages that try too hard or are “over the top.” Whether or not scare tactics work with you, research shows what you probably already know: Teens recognize when they are being manipulated to think or behave a certain way. NIDA Shares the Facts Recognizing that teens want to be treated as equals, NIDA scientists don’t preach about the evils of drug use—or use scare tactics to influence behavior. Instead, NIDA delivers science-based facts about how drugs affect the brain and body so that teens will have the information they need to make healthy decisions. Do you think that NIDA has the right idea with spreading the facts? Do scare tactics influence your friends’ behavior when it comes to drug abuse or other health-related issues? Scared teen girl

Teen Party Movies: Epic Adventure or Bad Hangover?

Many of the movies teens like the most have this in common: A group of young people go to parties, binge drink, get in trouble, or narrowly escape—all in the name of comedy. Hugely successful movies like the American Pie series, 2007’s Superbad, and the recent Project X all follow this formula.

And it’s not just “party movies” that highlight teen drinking. Even Harry Potter is not immune to controversy when it comes to alcohol.

Many different factors may influence teens’ decisions to drink alcohol—like whether their friends do—but a recent study found that watching a lot of movies that feature alcohol actually doubles the chances that young teens will start drinking and increases the chances that they will move on to binge drinking as well.

On Screen vs. Reality

Most movies centered around teen partying and drinking glamorize the party scene, making it seem like the craziest, most epic stuff will happen. On screen, it becomes a memorable adventure from which you return home safely with the story of a lifetime.

Real life is different. Underage drinking, and especially binge drinking, is not glamorous or funny. It’s about doing something stupid and embarrassing yourself in front of your friends. It’s about throwing up in someone’s car on the way home and having a massive hangover the next morning. Even worse, it’s about getting alcohol poisoning and making dangerous decisions like driving drunk.

Alcohol Featured on Purpose

Teens should always be aware of why certain things may be happening on TV or in the movies and become “media-savvy.”

The next time you see alcohol on screen, ask yourself why the movie makers put it there. Are they trying to make you laugh? Does the situation make it seem “cool” and like “everybody’s doing it”?

Does seeing actors drinking alcohol on screen make you more likely to try it? Do you feel the same way if one of the characters smokes cigarettes?

Learn some of the things you should think about when you watch TV or movies.

An ill doll on a toilet vomiting.

About HIV/AIDS: Inform Yourself to Protect Yourself

When someone mentions "HIV/AIDS" what is the first thing that comes to mind?

—Something you learned about in health class?

—Or saw on TV?

—Or recall a friend who recently got tested for HIV?

—Or a celebrity who raises awareness about HIV/AIDS around the world?

Here's some of the science behind HIV/AIDS that you may not know; HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), a disease of the immune system. Currently, there is no cure, but there is treatment. The good news? HIV/AIDS is preventable, and you can protect yourself by knowing how it is spread and using good judgment. Here are some typical questions that you might have, which research has helped to answer:

  • How does someone get HIV? HIV is transmitted when an infected person's blood or other bodily fluid comes in contact with the blood, broken skin, or mucous membranes of someone who is not infected.
  • Isn't HIV just a problem in foreign countries like Africa? It's true that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is worse in certain foreign countries, but it is also prevalent in the United States. Every nine and a half minutes, someone in the United States is infected with HIV, affecting people of every age, race, and creed. Even teens.
  • How many teens really have HIV? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 50,000 young people 13 to 24 years old were living with the virus that causes AIDS in 2006, and nearly half didn't even know they had it.
  • What does drug abuse have to do with it? You've probably heard that needle-sharing among injection drug users can spread the disease, which is true. However, using drugs and alcohol also puts people at risk. That's because when someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, their judgment is impaired, and they're more likely to make impulsive decisions they normally wouldn't, like having sex. Since HIV is sexually transmitted, unprotected sex can lead to getting HIV or giving it to someone else. And since so many teens don't even know they have HIV, they can pass it on without even knowing.

So, now what? Make healthy choices and protect yourself and your friends. For more information about HIV/AIDS, check out our friends over at

Three girls standing together smiling.

Thin at any Cost?

You only need to stand in a supermarket checkout line to realize our society is obsessed with how people look. Magazine headlines scream, “Guess Who!” next to a picture of a flabby stomach. Or they praise “So-and-So’s Awesome Post-Baby Body!”

Both girls and guys tell themselves that they need to be thinner or bulk up. The dangers and repercussions of steroid use are well known thanks to baseball and cycling scandals. Possibly less well known are the dangers of taking diet pills to lose weight.

Many diet pills are sold as “dietary supplements.” That means that these pills don’t have to meet the same strict standards—required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—as medications do.

So you might not know exactly how the ingredients in diet pills will affect your body. Some common diet pills contain combinations of different drugs, like both stimulants and depressants, and can really mess with your metabolism and even your heart. In addition, some of them carry mental health side effects, like depression or even thoughts of suicide.

In our supersized Nation, many people do need to drop a few pounds—safely, by cutting out excess fat and sugar and replacing them with fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean protein. If you think you need to lose weight and aren’t sure how to start, talk to a nurse or doctor.

Tell us: Do pictures of thin or muscular celebrities affect your body image? What’s your favorite healthy way to stay fit?

Diet pills on a plate with a measuring tape

National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day - What You Can Do

Sometimes we make jokes about our mental health, but serious mental illness is a real problem among young people in this country. Did you know that an estimated 4.5 to 6.3 million youth in the United States face mental health challenges? These might be about substance abuse, depression, bipolar disorder, compulsive behavior, and other mental health issues, including suicide. Unfortunately, about two-thirds of them do NOT receive the mental health services they need (like counseling and medicine) because it costs too much or they don’t know where to find help.

We need to fix this problem.  First of all, studies show that students who need and receive mental health services are more likely to stay in school. This is important because about 11% of high school youth with emotional challenges drop out before finishing high school and are 1.6 times more likely to be unemployed than high school graduates who are not enrolled in college. Secondly, mental health problems can affect many other areas of life–especially social relationships.

This is why SBB is writing about National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, being celebrated May 3. Communities all over the country will be holding events to show how important it is for kids to have good mental health, just like having good physical health. The many activities include programs using the theme “My Feelings are a Work of Art.” Think about that—so how would you draw the way you feel? It’s good to be aware of your feelings and how they affect your behavior and the decisions you make.

Find out how you can get involved and help by checking out

As always, keep yourself healthy. If you or a friend are having a hard time coping with everyday life, ask an adult you trust for help. Catching problems early can avoid worse ones later on.

A dancer on a stage.

What Is “The Real Cost” of Using Tobacco?

There’s no doubt that smoking is expensive—a pack of cigarettes costs just under $5 in Kentucky and more than $14 in New York City. Check out this calculator that shows how much smoking cigarettes can cost you each day, week, month, and year.

But the real cost is much worse.

Check it out: This very cool new website, The Real Cost, highlights that smoking can cost:

  • Your mouth: Smoking causes bad breath, stained teeth, and tooth loss.
  • Your skin: You may find an older-looking face in the mirror thanks to premature wrinkles.
  • Your lungs: Smoking “stunts” your lungs, or delays their development.
  • Your self-control: It gets harder and harder to resist with each cigarette smoked.
  • Your life: Lifelong smokers die an average of 13 years earlier than nonsmokers.

Brought to us by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), The Real Cost makes it really (really!) clear just how our health suffers, not to mention our independence, when we get hooked on tobacco products. And since it’s extremely hard to stop smoking once you’ve started, this information should help teens to decide for themselves never to start the habit in the first place.

Tobacco use almost always starts in the teen years, and the younger you are when you start, the more difficult it is to quit. Just a few cigarettes a month can lead to cravings. Three out of four teens who say they will stop smoking in 5 years, don’t.

There’s a reason why the tobacco industry spent about $8.4 billion in 2011 on advertising—nearly $23 million a day.

Tell us in comments: Do any of these real costs matter to you? What “real cost” stops you from smoking cigarettes?

If you or a friend is ready to quit smoking, chat live with a quit expert, call 1-877-448-7848, or visit Smokefree Teen.

Still not convinced the price of smoking is high enough to quit? Check out Drugs + Your Body, an interactive tool showing tobacco’s health effects on your lungs, skin, and mouth.

Image of a teenage boy with text saying, "Nearly 9 out of 10 adult smokers started before they were 18."

Coca-Cola's Scandalous Past

Did you hear the one about cocaine being found in the recipe for Coca-Cola? Well, it’s true. Coca-Cola was invented in 1885 by John Pemberton, a pharmacist from Atlanta, Georgia, who concocted the original formula in his backyard. Pemberton’s recipe contained cocaine—in the form of an extract of the coca leaf, which inspired the “Coca” part of the beverage’s name. The “Cola” in the name comes from the kola nut, which contains caffeine, another stimulant. At the time of Coca-Cola’s invention, cocaine was legal and a common ingredient in medicines. It was thought not to be harmful in small doses. Medicinal Coca-Cola Coca-Cola has always kept its formula a strict secret, but we know a few things about its origins. Pemberton advertised it as a patent medicine, claiming that it cured headaches, upset stomach, and fatigue. “Patent medicines” were concoctions of exotic ingredients and drug compounds that allegedly cured a wide range of ailments. They often contained ingredients now recognized as addictive substances, including opium and cocaine, as well as deadly elements like mercury and lead. In the 19th century, patent medicines were not regulated like medications are today. Anyone could claim health benefits without needing to prove treatment effectiveness—or reveal dangers. As early as 1891, some Americans spoke out against the inclusion of addictive ingredients like opium and cocaine. The makers of patent medicines revamped their formulas and health claims as a result. Taking the “Coke” out of Coca-Cola Asa Candler—also a pharmacist from Atlanta—purchased Coca-Cola from Pemberton and created the Coca-Cola Company in 1892. When Candler began advertising Coke as a beverage, making it available at lunch counters across America, the drink still contained a trace of cocaine. Obviously, the Coca-Cola you buy today does not contain cocaine—but it remained an ingredient well into the 1900s. But by 1929, with public pressure and Prohibition against alcohol in full force, the company was forced to remove all traces of cocaine. Coke soon became popular as a “soft drink,” an alternative to hard alcohol. Are there any food or drink products sold today that you think might be changed or taken off the market years from now? Coca Cola Bottle

Take a Breath of Fresh...Energy?

Sound too good to be true? Well, it is, and it may not be too good for you, either.

AeroShot is a dry caffeine “shot.” Each AeroShot has a powder blend of candy-flavored caffeine and B vitamins that you suck into your mouth and then swallow. Each canister has as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, but only takes six “inhales” to consume.

Questionable Marketing Claims

Breathable Foods started out marketing AeroShot as “breathable energy” in a “caffeine inhaler,” despite its being a powder. In response, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigated AeroShot and issued a warning letter for false and mislabeled packaging, since it’s a powder that you swallow.

Although AeroShot has corrected its labeling, its false advertising only shows how important it is to know the facts about products before you consume them. AeroShot’s claims that its caffeine “shots” were breathable were simply untrue—and potentially dangerous.

Unknown Health Effects

The health effects of AeroShot are still unclear.

One worry is that AeroShot makes it too easy for users, especially youth, to over-do caffeine. Drinking a cup of coffee takes many sips over time, but “puffing” multiple AeroShots can give you an alarming amount of caffeine in a couple of minutes. Caffeine is a chemical stimulant that affects the brain and body—and too much can result in overdose.

FDA was also concerned that the original advertisements of AeroShot showed young people using the product with alcohol. Having already heard about Four LOKO and mixing energy drinks with alcohol, you know by now that it’s dangerous to mix caffeine (a stimulant) and alcohol (a depressant), because they confuse the body by sending opposite chemical signals to the brain. Caffeine can reduce people’s ability to feel how drunk they really are and therefore cause them to drink more than they normally would.

What do you think? How can AeroShot market itself in a way that does not encourage dangerous behavior?

Check out our post, The Buzz on Caffeine, for alternative ways to boost your energy.

Lightning bolt logo.

Real Life: The Choices We Make

A lot of celebrities are making headlines lately for all the wrong reasons. First we hear about tennis star Andre Agassi admitting to meth (a toxic stimulant drug) use when he was on the tennis circuit (what was he thinking?) and now Tiger Woods, with everyone speculating about his personal problems. All of this news has made SBB think a lot about how we make choices in our lives. Why do intelligent, successful people make bad choices when they have so much to lose—even (and maybe especially) superstars?

We look at this question of personal choices and self control a lot at NIDA while we study drug abuse. Initially, taking drugs is a choice. Over time, drug abuse can become a disease we call addiction. But what makes us risk the consequences of making the choice to try drugs? Not everyone becomes addicted to them, but many do, so why do people risk it?

To find answers, scientists are studying the brain chemical called dopamine. Dopamine gives us a feeling of euphoria, a physical surge of pleasure in response to things we enjoy, which are different for different people. From healthy pleasures, like eating a good meal or scoring a goal, to unhealthy ones, like doing drugs or stealing from stores. Once you become addicted to that rush of dopamine it is hard to stop the behavior. And, once you become addicted it is hard to feel pleasure from the simple things in life—like a great piece of music, holding hands with someone you really like, spending a fun day with the family, or having a laugh with friends.

So how do we avoid making bad choices in the first place? SBB suggests focusing on the genuine pleasures in your life. Fill your day with them. Go shopping with your sister, watch a game with friends, join a club at school, see a movie, read a great book…Protect the simple pleasures in your life—and when it comes to drugs, maybe think about what you might lose.

Quote from Harry Potter about our choices and our abilities; Image Courtesy of Garland Cannon

Getting Enough Sleep: The Impossible Dream?

Are you a “morning person”? If you’re a teen, the answer is probably no—but that doesn’t mean you’re lazy. It has to do with a brain hormone called melatonin.

Studies show that teens’ circadian rhythms—biological “clocks” that drive behavioral responses during a 24-hour period—change during adolescence because of changes in the brain’s secretion of melatonin, which turns “on” in the evening and “off” in the morning. Melatonin signals your body that it’s tired.

Research has indicated that in teens, melatonin production turns off later in the day than in younger children. This means that teens likely will feel awake later at night and want to sleep in later in the morning.

Unfortunately, late-to-bed and later-to-rise sleeping times are out of sync with early school starts. Combined with the pressures to study late, take part in extracurriculars, work, and spend time with friends, it’s no wonder that teens find themselves tired much of the time.

Evidence suggests that sleep deprivation can be harmful to your brain and body. Too little sleep results in difficulty concentrating and learning. In fact, neuroscientists now think sleep is a critical time during which our brains consolidate learning, or put it all together so it sticks.

But there’s more. Constant sleepiness weakens your immune system, making it easier for you to get sick. A recent psychological study also showed a link between lack of sleep and mood disorders, as well as a link to general unhappiness, over-stimulation, anger and frustration, depression, substance use, and suicidal thoughts!

What’s Keeping You Awake?

Our hectic schedules don’t respect normal changes in teens’ sleep rhythms. But when your body tells you it’s tired at night, it’s best to go to sleep—and if you think watching TV or checking in on Facebook at midnight are good relaxers, think again. Screens act like daylight, tricking your brain into thinking it needs to wake up.

So while Benjamin Franklin’s famous saying, “Early to bed and early to rise” may not work well with the teen clock, there is ample evidence that getting enough sleep can help you stay healthy.

Young woman yawning

In Recovery—Steps to Overcoming Addiction

Most people know that addiction, can be overcome with treatment. But like many other diseases, it is often a winding road to get there. So, what are the steps to a healthier, drug-free life?

Seek treatment. The first step to recovery is to decide to seek treatment. It’s hard for people to recognize or admit they have a problem, even when they are putting their lives – or the lives of others – at risk. It doesn’t help that the brain’s decision-making center is impaired when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Treatment may mean medications, behavioral counseling, or a combination of the two.

Learn new habits. Relapse (or returning to drug use) is common with addiction and is an expected part of treatment. Returning to the people, places, or things associated with former drug use can actually trigger relapsebefore the addicted person is even aware of it. Behavioral therapy can teach the person in recovery to avoid these triggers and learn new coping skills so they can make better decisions.

Take it one step at a time. Recovery takes time. Treatment works best when it is long-term, at least 90 days in most cases. And because people treated for drug addiction are vulnerable to relapse even after they’ve been off drugs for a long while, most treatment professionals would say that someone with a past drug or alcohol problem is “in recovery” for a lifetime.

Find treatment. If you are interested in finding drug abuse treatment for yourself or a friend or family member, look up facilities near you by using the Substance Abuse Facility Treatment Locator, provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

Road to Recovery

Alcohol: The Friend Factor

Friends can influence your opinion about music, fashion—and alcohol. In this updated post from 2013, NIDA provides strategies for staying true to yourself and avoiding peer pressure.

Have you ever said “It’s not me, it’s my friends?” Turns out, this reasoning may not fly since what your friends do can have a big impact on you. Research studies show that teens whose best friends drink alcohol are twice as likely to try alcohol themselves. And, if teens get alcohol from friends, they’re more likely to start drinking at a younger age.

It’s a big deal. We know that a person who drinks alcohol early is more likely to abuse alcohol when he or she gets older.

So, if your friends drink and you don’t want to, what are you supposed to do? Get a whole new set of friends? It depends. You may find that some people believe drinking alcohol is the only way to have fun. But lots of people find other ways to enjoy themselves. If you’re not ready to give up on your friends just yet, take some time to learn a few key strategies for dealing with peer pressure.


  • It’s brave to stand up for yourself. Be that guy or girl who doesn’t drink. It might be hard at first, but eventually people will respect you for sticking to your beliefs. You might even start to influence some of your friends to stay away from alcohol too.
  • Not everyone is doing it. In fact, according to NIDA’s 2013 Monitoring the Future survey, nearly 75% of 10th graders reported NOT using alcohol in the past month.
  • It’s okay to make up an excuse. If someone is really hounding you, dodge the issue—you could say that you took medicine that will make you sick if you drink.

If you’ve said no and your friends still don’t respect your choices, you have to ask yourself— are they really that good a friend?

Tell us: What’s your strategy for not giving in to peer pressure?

Teens linking arms in friendship.

What Are "Co-Occurring" Disorders?

As many as 6 in 10 people with a substance use disorder also suffer from a mental health condition such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or bipolar disorder, to name a few. When this happens, the person has “co-occurring disorders.” The problem is, fewer than 10% of adults with co-occurring disorders receive treatment for both conditions—and more than half of them receive no treatment at all. Teens also can suffer from co-occurring disorders. Which Came First? It’s often impossible to say which problem came first. In one case, a person may experience anxiety from a childhood trauma and turn to drugs to cope, developing an addiction. In another case, the person may use heroin and have negative experiences that could lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. The important thing is to get help for both problems—drug problems and any other mental health disorders. Treating co-occurring disorders can be challenging because often the different specialists involved don’t coordinate treatment for the different problems. Doctors, social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists most often treat mental health disorders, whereas a mix of health care professionals with various backgrounds may provide treatment for drug addiction. Treatment Must Address the Whole Person NIDA and other Federal agencies are working to make sure people who have co-occurring disorders receive integrated treatment that addresses both substance use and other mental health disorders. Some medications may ease symptoms of a mental health disorder and also may help the person stay off a certain drug. Other types of treatment also may be effective. For example, for teens with co-occurring disorders, cognitive behavioral therapy can help. This therapy helps the person change harmful beliefs and behaviors, and provides skills to handle stressful circumstances. Do you know of anyone in real life or even in a movie or television show who had co-occurring disorders? Sad teenager

Snuffing Out Snuff: Baseball Restricts Smokeless Tobacco Use

Who will be this year’s “Mr. October”? The onset of the playoffs has SBB thinking about all things baseball—home runs, hot dogs, and strikeouts. Another common image: baseball players chewing and spitting smokeless tobacco.

But that image might be fading. For the 2012 season, Major League Baseball (MLB) banned players, managers, and coaches from carrying smokeless tobacco tins or packages whenever fans are in the park.

They also aren’t supposed to use smokeless tobacco during televised interviews, team-sponsored appearances, autograph signings, and other events where fans are present—and can even be reported for violating these rules.

“Chew” and Baseball: A Long History

Since the mid-1800s, smokeless tobacco—called dip, chew, and snuff—has often been used in baseball. Players chewed the stuff to keep their mouths moist on dusty fields, and they spit it into their mitts to keep them flexible. In the 1920s, many players switched to cigarettes, until the 1970s, when people realized how harmful smoking is. After that, smokeless tobacco made a comeback.

However, smokeless tobacco is just as habit-forming, damaging, and downright gross as inhaling 7,000+ chemicals into your lungs. In fact, the amount of nicotine absorbed from smokeless tobacco is 3 to 4 times greater than what a cigarette delivers.

Smokeless tobacco can cause cancer of the mouth, tongue, cheeks, gums, esophagus, and pancreas; mouth sores; and gum disease and gum recession (when the gum pulls away from the teeth).

Not only that, but spitting out tobacco juice is disgusting.

Despite these consequences, baseball players continue to use smokeless tobacco. It’s so common, in fact, that the chewing gum Big League Chew is made to look just like it and the packaging features a cartoon baseball player. Talk about sending the wrong message!

In 2011, Washington Nationals pitching great Stephen Strasburg made the personal choice to quit using smokeless tobacco. We hope that MLB’s restrictions will help other players make the healthy choice to put the snuff aside!

Knock tobacco out of the Park banner.

Do Scientists Light Up?

Have you seen Avatar? Awesome special effects. And you had to love the story, especially if you're into science. But there was this one thing ...the top scientist (played by Sigorney Weaver) was a chain smoker. WHAT WAS THAT ALL ABOUT? Alright, so movie directors will put smoking in movies to make characters look edgy and rebellious, or even stupid sometimes. But Avatar is happening 125 years in the future. Would a top-level scientist a century from now get addicted to cigarettes and not know how to stop?

Or maybe, like some other bloggers suggest, this was sponsored "product placement" by the tobacco industry-a sneaky way to get teens to think smoking is cool. Some people say that because it's illegal now for the tobacco industry to advertise on TV or in other places, their new strategy is to hook potential customers by associating smoking with heroes and heroines. Meanwhile, the American Lung Association and other groups are trying to stop moviemakers from showing so much smoking—especially since research shows that teens who see a lot of smoking in movies are more likely to start smoking themselves.

Thanks to NIDA research, we now know what smoking really does to people. And it's far from cool. To put it bluntly, the effects range from stinky breath and bad gums to heart and lung disease to early death. This message has gotten through despite the movies, and teens are smoking less now than they have in over a decade. Thanks to NIDA, better treatments to help people quit are also getting out there...125 years from now, incurable smoking addiction could be a thing of the past, like small pox. So you have to wonder why this amazing movie director who learned so much about science to create Avatar didn't take a good look at what is going on in science and health. Why else would a successful, top-level scientist still be chain smoking that far into the future?—especially in a lab, of all places! Let SBB know if you see any other ridiculous smoking scenes in the movies.

Face of creature from the movie Avatar; Image Courtesy of Desirée Delgado

Summertime: Fun and Healthy Ways To Keep Busy

What are your summer plans? This post from June 2012 has some great ideas to help you pass the time.

School’s out! It’s time for ice cream, BBQs, and lazy days at the pool.

And then?

After a while, the long hot days of summer can quickly turn boring. And far too often, the boredom and restlessness can lead to taking risks, like drinking or experimenting with drugs.

What to do?

1. Read for fun. OK, so that sounds too much like school…but even comic books or graphic novels can stimulate your brain cells. Check out Dare To Read for the Fun of It for this year’s best-of-the-best young adult books.

2. Find a hobby. Try something new and keep in mind that learning a new skill enriches your life.

3. Do odd jobs for neighbors. Offer to babysit, mow the lawn, weed the garden, or run errands for someone who can’t get around as easily. Why not earn a little extra money over the summer?

4. Volunteer. But money’s not everything. Find an organization you believe in and offer to help. Bonus: It might fulfill a community service requirement for school and look good on your college applications.

5. Sign up for a class. It doesn’t have to be algebra or health. How about a cooking class, swim lessons, or how to produce a video for YouTube? Check out local community colleges or community centers for classes near you.

6. Get moving. Regular exercise is good for your brain, body, and mood. You don’t need a gym—organize a basketball game in the neighborhood; get out your skateboard or bike; or find a new path or trail to explore. Check out the Let's Move! initiative for other ideas.

We bet you have some great ideas for keeping busy during the summer months. Share your best ideas with us and we may highlight them in a future SBB post.

Young woman blowing bubbles

Cyberspace is the New Frontier in Fighting Drug Abuse

So you’re friends with 100 or more people on Facebook, right? What are the chances that someone you know or a family member is in trouble with drugs or alcohol? Or thinking about trying something they wouldn’t do if they knew the facts?

You could try talking to your friend, or asking if they need help. But what are the chances they’d listen? Would you know the right thing to say?

That old cliché—tell an adult—may sound like good advice. But you don’t want to rat out your friend. So what do you do?

Today you can reach out in ways that didn’t even exist 5 years ago. Interactive online social networks and blogs like this one let you help without feeling you’ve betrayed your friend. You can even get involved in the conversation, like commenting here on SBB.

Using resources like this blog, you can get the latest science on drugs, alcohol, and addiction, and link people to additional science-backed information—anonymously. Facebook, including NIDA’s Facebook page, is another way to find and share trusted information.

Here are some other recommendations for Facebook friends that SBB trusts—and you can, too.

Government agencies with Facebook pages:

Treatment help:


Many of these organizations are also tweeting and blogging. You can find a blogroll of those talking about drugs, alcohol, and addiction issues on the Sara Bellum Blog home page by scrolling down and looking in the blogroll to the right of this post:

So when you’re wondering what you can do to support a friend or family member, here’s an update for your own Facebook status: Friends don’t let friends stay in the pit with drugs.

One hand reaching out of a laptop reaching out to another hand coming out of a different laptop.
Drugs: Shattering the Myths logo.

St. Patrick's Day: Leprechauns, Shamrocks, and... Binge Drinking?

St. Patrick’s Day, once a religious holiday that celebrated the patron saint of Ireland, has become a day for revelry and partying. In fact, it has become one of the biggest drinking days of the year.

Binge drinking—sucking down 4 or 5 drinks within about 2 hours—seems to be encouraged, with many bars hosting day-long parties and serving green beer and Irish whiskey.

Binge Drinking: What’s the Harm?

While downing pints of green beer may be a St. Patrick’s Day tradition for some, it’s really not a good one for your brain. Research shows that binge drinking damages the brain, even if you do it only once in a while. Young people are at special risk, since their brains are still developing—growing and making new connections until their mid-20s.

Binge drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning and also affects the frontal cortex, an area involved with judgment, thinking, memory, and feeling.

Drinking and Driving Is Never Okay

Binge drinking also can have serious consequences after the party’s over. If you’re driving under the influence, or riding with someone who’s drunk, you’ll need a ton of “Irish luck” to get home safely.

St. Patrick’s Day is one of the deadliest on the road. More than 1 in 3 drivers involved in fatal crashes have a blood alcohol concentration over the legal limit—and of course, no amount of alcohol is legal for those under age 21.

In 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started a program with the slogan, “Kiss Me, I’m Sober,” to keep “buzzed” drivers off the road on St. Patrick’s Day. The first and most important step is to choose a designated driver who will not drink alcohol during the festivities.

Be Green!

St. Patrick’s Day is meant for light-hearted fun, and you don’t have to drink alcohol to enjoy it. What are some ideas for celebrating the greenest holiday without drinking?

A row of beer bottles.

Parents: How Much Do They Influence You?

Someone offers you a cigarette or a beer. In the split second that you have to consider your answer, what do you think about?

What your friends will think?

What about what your parents would think?

When you know that your parents don’t want you to drink, smoke, or use drugs, is that enough to stop you from doing it?

The evidence points to yes: One source says that 3 out of 4 teens say parents are the biggest influence on their decision on whether or not to drink alcohol.

And another survey showed that teens who thought their parents would strongly disapprove of smoking were very unlikely to report smoking cigarettes in the past month.

Communication and Respect Are Key

Separating yourself from your parents is an important part of growing up; teens need to learn to think for themselves and make decisions on their own, after all. But that doesn’t mean parents can’t have some influence when it comes to their kids’ health.

But instead of simply disapproving, isn’t it more about how parents talk to their kids that makes them pay attention—or not? For example, a parent saying “Don’t do this because I said so” may have less impact than if they communicated in an open-minded and respectful way, even about unhealthy behaviors they disapprove of.

Tell Us

So back to our original question: If you know your parents disapprove of something, are you more or less likely to do it? Why?

A teenage boy talking to his mother.

Energy Drinks: A Boost in the Wrong Direction?

Energy drinks—You see them at X Games events, basketball arenas, and rock concerts. You can even “fan” some of them on Facebook. What these brands don’t tell you, and what science is now showing us, is that their drinks can really be unhealthy.

Energy drinks often pack in extra vitamins, along with caffeine, which delivers the eye-opening jolt of energy, and is supposed to boost your brain power. People, even teens, seek that extra kick from energy drinks to stay alert longer or perform better sometimes. But do these drinks really boost your brain?

The makers of these drinks claim their drinks deliver energy, but in fact, what they deliver are monster-doses of caffeine and other supplements that rev up your system. Although they may deliver a temporary jolt of energy, they also boost your heart rate, making you feel jittery and on-edge-and too much caffeine can cause stomach aches. Plus, having an energy drink every day might fool you into thinking you can’t function without it.

Teens are busy. School, sports, a part-time job, and never-ending homework…finally sleep, then having to get up while it’s still dark out to do it all over again. No wonder energy drinks are appealing!

But do they deliver what they promise? And is drinking such high doses worth the possible health risks? Probably not. Better to get more sleep and exercise so you don’t have to depend on chemicals for your energy.

Caffeine molecule filled with the logos of popular energy drinks

Assert Your Independence: Say No to Alcohol This July 4th

With the Fourth of July coming up, SBB wants to remind teens about the dangers of binge drinking. Check out this post, originally published July 3, 2012.

For many Americans, celebrating the Fourth of July includes fireworks, parades, sparklers, and backyard picnics. Alongside the hotdogs and potato salad, though, usually sit bottles of beer.

Alcohol is often a part of our cultural celebrations. When someone gets married, we toast the happy couple with champagne. Many people binge drink on St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo. Wherever someone is celebrating, chances are, alcohol is there.

Statistics [PDF‒138.44 KB] show that the Fourth of July is no exception. Teens and adults alike can end up in unhealthy situations from celebrating with alcohol. Each day of the holiday weekend of July 3–5, 2009, an average of 942 ER visits occurred related to alcohol use by people under age 21—two-thirds by young men, which is double the usual number for this group.

The Risks

When people see others around them drinking alcohol, it can seem like alcohol is harmless. NIDA’s Monitoring the Future study shows that in general, most 12th graders don’t see binge drinking on weekends [PDF‒2.25 MB] as being very risky. The study also shows that such thinking makes drinking alcohol more likely.

In fact, alcohol is illegal for teens and can alter the developing brain. Further, drinking heavily can lower inhibitions and open the door to taking more risks—such as driving or riding with someone when you really shouldn’t be.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Fourth of July holiday period (July 2–6) is particularly deadly. During Fourth of July holidays from 2007 to 2011, 780 people were killed in car crashes involving a driver with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher, which qualifies as a DUI offense.

This Fourth of July, set the example for your friends: Opt for a cold lemonade, and stay safe.

Check out these resources about alcohol and underage drinking:

Three friends eating outside

Blast from the Past: "Just Say No"

In 1982, then-First Lady Nancy Reagan launched an anti-drug campaign famously known as “Just say no.”

While many people—including public health experts—believed the message was an important one to get out to teens, others thought it was way too simplistic and would not appeal to them.

The message appealed to Mrs. Reagan, who campaigned tirelessly for the effort, appearing on television news, giving speeches, and writing newspaper editorials. She even produced a series of public service announcements with actor Clint Eastwood and got help from movie theaters to deliver the message.

In the end, the campaign was not effective in preventing teen drug abuse, and the phrase “just say no” has become something of a pop-culture joke.

Since that time, developing effective prevention messages has become a lot more sophisticated. Lessons learned include focusing on the facts about drug abuse so teens can make informed decision for themselves.

Another lesson learned is that teens are much more likely to pay attention when they are involved in the process. The Above the Influence campaign, for example, invites you and your peers to “share your voice” by submitting stories and videos about how drugs may have affected you or someone you know.

Check out the bulletin board at Above the Influence to see what teens are saying about peer pressure and other things. Lynn says, “Giving in is giving up.” Or Bobbi: “We are what we want to be, not what others want us to be, so don’t let the pressure get to you!”

Or as J.J. raps in his post, “Live Your Life:”

What’s the point of doing those drugs,

It just makes u weak, and clouds up ya lungs,

It messes you up, It gets u high,

But then you’ll see, 

That you only did it to die

That’s a powerful message. So, now you tell us—how do you say no to drugs?

Update: Above the Influence has taken down the bulletin board. Share your voice on the Above the Influence Facebook page.

A photo of Nancy Reagan.

Mini Cigars: The Facts Behind the Flavors

When you hear that something comes in strawberry, ice cream, chocolate, peach, or grape flavors, your first thoughts may be: ice cream, candy, or something made for kids. After all, manufacturers of kids’ toothpastes, medicines, and vitamins add fun flavors to make their products more appealing. You may also think that flavored products are harmless, like candy.

But if you think flavored mini cigars are harmless, you’re mistaken.

Cigars of any kind, including flavored mini cigars, contain the same addictive and cancer-causing qualities as regular cigarettes. In fact, cigar tobacco has a high concentration of nitrogen compounds, some of the strongest cancer-causing substances known. Cigar smoking also is linked to gum disease and tooth loss.

Although the Food and Drug Administration has banned similar flavored cigarettes, there’s no such ban (yet) on mini cigars. Unfortunately, more and more teens across the country are smoking mini cigars.

In some states, like Maryland, statistics show that 14% of teens smoke cigars—this mirrors the rate of cigarette smoking among teens.

But Maryland isn’t ignoring the issue. Recently, the state launched a new campaign called The Cigar Trap to let teens discover the truth about these flavored brown sticks that you might see behind the checkout counter, near the candy bars and gum.

Find out more about mini cigars, including how you can tell your friends the facts behind the flavors.

The Cigar Trap

Does This Make Me Look Fat?

About 4 years ago, my good friend tried to die by suicide; the reason behind it? She felt like she didn’t match up to the women you see in magazines; she felt like she wasn’t beautiful or skinny enough. The thing about these pictures: The models themselves don’t even look like their pictures—they are Photoshopped.

My name is Elisabeth Burton, Liz, and I’m a high school junior in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. I received the third place NIDA Addiction Science Fair award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2012 for my project on how media images influence our perception of our bodies. Because of my friend, I started noticing how often other girls and I talk about our bodies negatively. Mimi Nichter, Ph.D., an anthropologist at the University of Arizona, labeled this activity “Fat Talk,” a kind of social ritual among friends, where girls complain about their bodies as a call for support from their peers.

It’s Not Just Girls

Jessica Alba

Jessica Alba before and after Photoshop

Last year, I learned that the media affects girls in more ways than they realize. From my research, I found that the more girls talk “fat,” the more they perceive Photoshopped media images as attainable and real, lowering their body satisfaction.

This year, I learned that guys have this issue as well. They see Photoshopped images in the media that send the message that you need to be more muscular, more buff. I have found that some boys engage in something similar to “Fat Talk,” but instead of wanting to be skinnier, they aim to be bigger, buffer. I call this, “Buff Talk.”

When talking to some guys, I found that they feel a need to be more muscular, especially in sports, and this is leading to pressure to take steroids. The girls I talked to felt similar pressure, to purge (throw up after eating) and to take diet pills. I then began to wonder if Buff and Fat Talk, combined with seeing Photoshopped images, were related to teens’ risk assessments of steroids, purging, and diet pills. My research showed that it was related.

Specifically, I found that when the reasons for the Buff and Fat Talk are internal (“I am too fat” for girls; “I am too scrawny” for guys), teens are more likely to believe that occasional use of steroids or diet pills, or occasional purging, is low risk. The more they felt that the photographic images I showed them in my experimental design were attainable, real, and desirable, the more pressure they felt to look like these images, and the lower their self-esteem. In reality, these unrealistic and unattainable images can have damaging and dangerous effects.

I am happy to share my results and research with you and to reach more young people with this information. Hopefully getting more knowledge out there will help this problem. As young people, we need to realize that we are far more than how we look.

Body builder in a gym.

Nate Marquardt before Photoshop

Cover of "Muscle & Fitness Magazine".

Nate Marquardt after Photoshop


A young lady leaning on a railing.

The Healthiest Nation in One Generation?

Today kicks off National Public Health Week, April 5–11, 2010. This means that governments, businesses, schools, and community organizations across the county will be promoting lifestyles and policies that support and improve people's health. That is, after all, what "public health" is all about—encouraging people to make good decisions about their health, such as quitting smoking or getting vaccinated, and making sure that our neighborhoods support healthy choices like designating drug-free school zones or putting in bike trails to help people of all ages get more exercise.

Here in the U.S., we are dealing with many important issues related to public health, including obesity, drug abuse, and HIV/AIDS, and there's still much work to be done. But what if it only took a few years to turn this situation around? What if today's teens could become some of the healthiest adults on the planet? That's the goal that National Public Health Week is inspiring us to achieve: "the healthiest nation in one generation." What does that mean for you?? See this video for some ideas.

Here are some ways you can get involved in public health:

  • Organize a public health event at your school. Talk with your teachers, classmates, and friends about a public health challenge at your school and how a group of you could help resolve it. For example, if your school lunches are missing fresh fruits, you could organize a lunchtime smoothie session with healthy ingredients from your local grocery store.
  • Join a public health event in your neighborhood, town or city. Is there a walk, run, or bike ride coming up in your area about a health issue that concerns you? Inquire with the organizers about teen involvement, and then round up your relatives, classmates, neighbors, and friends to participate or volunteer as a group.
  • Go for a career in public health. Public health obviously involves doctors and nurses, but it's important to realize it also takes scientists, educators, communicators, city planners, politicians, and many others to research, plan, test, treat, raise awareness, and make laws to prevent disease and injury and promote health in society. This means there are hundreds of ways to be involved! For starters, check out the Disease Detective Summer Camp offered by the CDC.
  • Lead by example and spread the word. When it comes to teen drug abuse, this is one of the most important things teens can do – for themselves and each other. Learning about drugs and their effects on the body, and sharing that knowledge with others, makes you part of improving the public health. Helping yourself or someone else resist drug abuse or overcome addiction are powerful experiences that can help you and others.

We hope you can find something healthy to do this week in honor of National Public Health Week. Leave us a comment and let us know your opinion on becoming the healthiest nation in one generation.

Many hands joined together in the center of a huddle

Summer Music Festivals: More About Partying Than Music?

Summer music festivals like Bonnaroo, Coachella, or Country USA offer a great chance to hear live music, hang out with friends, and enjoy a fun scene. Outdoor festivals draw thousands of people from across the country for multiday events featuring dozens of shows. The festivals include food, activities like art projects and silent discos, and several stages for musical acts.

But the music festival environment may encourage festival goers to act in ways they might not otherwise. A poll from MSN UK asked 2,000 summer music festival goers about why they attended and how they acted:

  • 47% confessed to doing something at a music festival that they would “never consider doing outside of the music festival environment.”
  • 21% reported using illegal drugs while at the festival.
  • Only 45% said they attended the festivals to listen to the music.

The truth is, you don’t need drugs and alcohol to enjoy a musical festival. Some people even find that music itself provides a natural high.

Why Stay Drug Free at Festivals?

You want to preserve your memories. Summer music festivals are an amazing way to see your favorite artists, discover new bands, and meet new people. Drugs can cause memory loss and alter your perception of events.

Drugs affect your thinking and decisions. When you’re around thousands of strangers, you want your mind to be clear and focused so you can stick with friends and stay safe.

Drugs have side effects. They can raise your heart rate, make you dizzy, make you sweat or give you chills, and cause other side effects. In a hot, crowded environment, you want to feel your best.

Though some music stars make music festivals seem to be all about alcohol and drugs, people who go to music festivals don’t need to use drugs or alcohol to have fun. Get a good group of friends together, find out where your favorite bands are playing, and enjoy the live music experience. 

Tell us: How do you have fun at music festivals or concerts without using drugs or alcohol?

People having fun at a concert

Cigarettes Versus the Scale

Have you ever heard friends say they’d like to quit smoking, but they are afraid they’ll gain weight if they stop?

Some people do experience a slight weight gain after they quit smoking. It could be that smokers trying to quit may reach for food for the same reasons they used cigarettes—to deal with stress or boredom or to be social.

The good news is that research shows that by 6 months, many people start losing this extra weight (typically less than 10 pounds) as they adjust to becoming non-smokers.

When you think about the many health benefits of quitting smoking, it’s easy to see far more pros than cons, tobacco use being the number one preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States.

Photo of a girl breaking a cigarette in half.

Here are some ways you can keep weight gain to a minimum while making the healthy life choice to leave those cigarettes behind.

Choose healthy foods. Fill your plate with fruits and veggies and lean meats like fish or grilled chicken.

Get moving! Exercise reduces stress and boredom, increases your metabolism, and can even help you get a better night’s sleep. Consider joining a class with a friend to help keep you motivated.

Drink more water. Skip the sugary soft drinks and make sure you drink at least six to eight glasses of water each day.

Watch your portions. Many people eat far more than the recommended serving size, and many restaurants serve huge portions of food! But remember, you don’t have to eat everything at one meal—take half of it home for lunch the next day.

To learn more about weight as it relates to quitting smoking, see Forever Free: Smoking and Weight (PDF, 1.18MB), a publication from the National Cancer Institute.

Feet on scale

Addicted to French Fries: Is Food a Drug?

According to the American Heart Association, about one in three kids and teens in the United States is overweight or obese. Obesity can lead to chronic health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Obesity can even shorten your life.

You probably already heard this in the news. But, did you know that a diet high in saturated fats, refined sugars, corn syrup, and carbohydrates literally tricks our brains into craving more unhealthy stuff?

Brains React to Food

Most people don’t just consume food for “fuel” or energy. Most of us enjoy eating, especially our favorite foods. Science backs this up: Consuming tasty foods can satisfy the natural brain reward system, releasing the chemical dopamine, known as the feel-good brain chemical, to add to overall feelings of contentment and satisfaction. This is good for our survival since we have to eat to survive.

Overeating is different from drug abuse, but is also based in the brain. Scientists now understand that, for a growing number of people, certain foods trick the brain into wanting more. Pizza, French fries, chocolate, and colas are high on the list of foods that trigger dopamine.

In this way, food causes reactions in the brain similar to those caused by some drugs, like cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana, which also affect dopamine levels and lead to compulsive drug seeking and use.

According to NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow, “We are finding tremendous overlap between drugs in the brain and food in the brain.”

Steps You Can Take

It’s important to balance your diet with healthy choices and right-sized portions to ensure you get all the nutrition you need to be healthy. Here are a few tips from Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign:

  • Try new fruits and veggies. Add variety to your meals to make eating healthier, fun, and interesting.
  • Drink smart. Skip soda and other drinks flavored with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup. Choose water—make it more exciting by adding a splash of lemon or a few mint leaves.
  • Move every day. Walk or bike to your destination. Turn off the TV and go outside.

Now you tell us: What do you do to eat well, keep fit, and stay healthy?

French fries

Mentors: Helping Teens Help Each Other

Get good grades. Spend time with friends. Make your parents proud. Eat healthy. Exercise. Volunteer. Choose a college. Don’t relax until you’ve finished all of the above.

Sounds stressful. Yet these are the everyday situations many teens face. Add to that other common problems like bullying, sex, drugs and alcohol, joblessness, and family troubles, and it’s easy to see how teens can feel overwhelmed.

That’s where a mentor can help. Mentors are volunteers who support young people through the stresses of school, family, and friends—in other words: life. Mentors are trained in one or several areas to serve as guides, tutors, career advisors, and friends.

One of the oldest and best known mentoring networks is Big Brothers Big Sisters. Founded more than 100 years ago, it matches adults to young people age 6 to 18, one on one, to develop positive relationships that have direct and lasting effects.

Mentors can be a lifeline when you can’t turn to friends and family for help. School-based mentoring is growing more popular: Volunteer mentors work with students during or right after school.

It’s not always adults mentoring teens. Many high schools offer teen leadership development and peer mentoring programs. The Web site—for and about teens—offers a campaign to Start a Peer Mentoring Program in Your School. Signing up and getting started could earn you a $2,000 scholarship.

The Benefits of Mentoring

People often form enduring relationships with their mentors and experience good changes in their lives like performing better in school or having a more positive attitude in general. According to a study by Big Brothers Big Sisters, evidence suggests mentoring can lessen the chances of teens starting to use drugs or alcohol and engaging in violent behaviors.

But the mentors benefit too. Big Brothers Big Sisters also found that high school students who mentor younger people report improved interpersonal skills—communicating better, being more patient, and wanting to be a better role model.

Have you ever been someone’s mentor? Do you have a mentor yourself? Tell us your experiences in comments.

Two teenage girls.

Want To Look Your Best? Don’t Smoke

Many teens and their parents spend money on clothes, haircuts, braces, perfumes, athletic gear and sports memberships, all to try and look their best. But smoking cigarettes can cancel out all these hard-earned efforts. Besides diseases like cancer and emphysema, smoking can cause:

  • Yellow-brown teeth and bad breath
  • Discolored skin on your fingers
  • Smelly clothes and hair (Not good on a date!)
  • Loss of sense of smell and taste (So much for your favorite foods)
  • Lower stamina for exercise and sports
  • Deeper wrinkles than average for a person’s age
  • Uncontrollable coughing fits and mucous overload

The list of negative effects goes on and on. We told you in an earlier post that 75 percent of high school seniors prefer to date someone who doesn’t smoke. This list makes it easy to understand why!

Ready to Quit? It’s never too late—or too early!—to quit smoking. Quitting isn’t easy, but resources are out there to help. In fact, the CDC has several resources on quitting smoking that can help you out. The guide offers specific tips on what to do on the day you quit and ways to distract yourself in the first, hardest days after you toss out the pack and lighters. For instance, when cravings hit, you can:

  • Carry things to put in your mouth, like gum, hard candy, or toothpicks.
  • Keep busy by going to the movies, bicycling, walking the dog, playing video games, or calling a friend.
  • Go places where you’re not allowed to smoke, like the movies or the mall.

When you quit, treat yourself to a reward, and pay for it with the money you used to spend on cigarettes. To talk to someone about quitting, call the national toll-free number, 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). If you don’t smoke (good for you!) but you may have a friend or sibling who does, so send them this blog post to encourage them to take the positive, life-saving step of quitting.

Photo of how smoking affects aging.

Alco-Pops: A Refreshment to Rethink

In June 2010, SBB warned teens about marketing gimmicks surrounding these alcoholic beverages. They’re still on the market, so here’s a refresher for why you should avoid them.

Alcohol companies have tapped into a growing market to introduce underage drinkers to their products, on the basis that kids who acquire a taste for alcoholic drinks early are more likely to get hooked. While it is still illegal for teens to purchase them, “alcopops,” are flavored beer and vodka drinks that contain caffeine, juices, and other flavors. These drinks often sport names like Moonshot, JungleJoose, and Bacardi Breezer Watermelon, to fool you into believing they are harmless flavored drinks.

Girl holding stomach and headBut Drinker Beware…

Alcopops may contain 4-7% alcohol or more, higher than the average can of beer containing a little over 3% alcohol content. Alcohol is a depressant, and so can make you tired and slow your brain and reaction time. That affects your ability to make decisions and to act or think properly—it also makes you thirsty, so you keep drinking. Now throw in a strong jolt of caffeine, such as you find in typical energy drinks.

While the alcohol in alcopops tends to make you sleepy, the caffeine in them keeps you feeling “up.” Sugar, the major ingredient in many juice drinks and flavorings, also stimulates your brain to give you a short-term energy surge. Now confused from the caffeine, alcohol, and sugar mix, your brain gets tricked in sometimes lethal ways because these drinks don’t taste like alcohol and make you feel less intoxicated than alcohol alone. This leaves you even less aware of how much you’ve consumed and more likely to binge drink.

What’s the Big Deal?

The big deal here is that combining a depressant (alcohol) with stimulants (caffeine and sugar) sends mixed signals to your brain, which can have long-term consequences. So digest the facts before you pop a top: drinking alcohol—including alcopops—can be quite dangerous.

Fruity Alcoholic Drinks

Don't Stress about Stress

Everyone has stress in their lives, whether it’s from school, family, friends, or work. Everyone deals with stress differently. Some deal with it in healthy ways, while others turn to drugs, choosing not to confront their issues head on. Drugs lead to stress as your body starts to feel the harmful effects. So, how can you deal with stress in healthy ways? Here are some suggestions for a more stress-free life:

1. Take the stress out of stressful situations. Stress can pop up anywhere, but you can help make stressful situations more bearable. For example, if you have a test coming up, plan ahead and study for an hour every night of the week leading up to it instead of cramming the night before.

2. Just breathe. If you find yourself in a stressful situation, take a moment, step away, and practice some breathing techniques. Try counting backwards from 10 while breathing slowly in and out.

3. Exercise. Exercise is a great way to take your mind off your stress and reassess the situation. Not only will you refocus, but your body will release endorphins, which create a sense of pleasure throughout the body.

4. Relax. Take some time out of your day and do something that relaxes you. You could read a while, watch your favorite show, listen to music, spend some time outdoors, whatever helps you unwind.

5. Talk to family and friends. Getting advice from the people who care most about you can put stressful situations into perspective. Talk with family members or close friends when you’re feeling stressed out.

Tell us: What are some ways that you de-stress?

Teens running

Catching Some ZZZZs: Safe Ways To Get to Sleep

Have you ever had a night when you just couldn’t fall asleep? It’s a terrible feeling. Tossing and turning, watching the minutes click closer to dawn, dreading how tired you’re going to be the next day—the more you try to sleep, the harder it gets. Everyone has trouble sleeping sometimes for many different reasons, like stress and anxiety, or disorders like sleep apnea. Some people are prescribed sleep aids called sedatives, a type of central nervous system depressant, to help them sleep. When used as prescribed—and only by the person they were prescribed for—sedatives are safe and effective for helping people sleep. When abused to get high or even to get sleep, sleep aids can be dangerous, something most teens don’t know. Abusing sleep aids can even be deadly if they are mixed with other substances like alcohol or certain allergy medications because they can slow heart rate and respiration. Six Tips To Help You Sleep If you have consistent trouble getting to sleep, talk to your doctor about it. Meanwhile, here are some things you can do to help you get the 9 hours of sleep you’re supposed to have as a teen.
  • Skip the caffeine. Drink a decaf latte or stick with water. Caffeine is a stimulant and can affect you for up to 24 hours and also cause you to wake often.
  • Keep a routine. Prime your body for sleep—go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.
  • Exercise, but not before bed. Staying active can help you sleep better, but don’t exercise within 3 hours of going to bed because it can actually wake you up.
  • Block out the light. Cover your windows with heavy curtains or blackout shades. You might even try a sleep mask.
  • Use your bed for sleep. It may be tempting to check Twitter or Facebook before you go to sleep, but it’s best for your brain to associate your bed only with sleep, not socializing, work, or reading. Studies have shown that the computer screen’s bright light can reduce your body’s melatonin levels, which disrupts normal sleep cycles.
  • Try some toast. Carbohydrates like bread, graham crackers, pretzels, and fruit can help make you feel warm and lead you to feel sleepy.
Do you have any ideas that work when you can’t sleep? Tell us in the comments. Tired girl taking sleeping pill

Four Tips to Avoid Drinking, Drugs, and Driving

Okay, say you’re at a party. The friends you came with have been drinking, but you haven’t. When it’s time to head home, you’re nervous—you’ve heard all about drunk driving and how dangerous it is. So, what would you do to protect yourself and your friends?  Do you have a plan to deal with situations like this?

Now, what would you do if your friends had been smoking pot instead of drinking? It turns out “drugged driving” can be just as dangerous. Someone who’s been smoking pot or doing other drugs puts everyone at risk, including themselves, when they get behind the wheel. They have slower reflexes and so can’t respond as well in an emergency. In fact, if you look at car crashes where the driver is killed, about 1 in 5 involves drugs other than alcohol (like marijuana).

Usually, drugged drivers have been drinking alcohol, too—making them doubly dangerous on the road. Research shows that driving under the influence of both marijuana and alcohol is riskier than with alcohol or marijuana alone.

Look, it’s hard to go against the group. But the last thing we want to do is see our friends get hurt, arrested, or even killed. So, what can we do?

Here are some ideas:

  • Stay smart and speak up. Remember that the effects of marijuana and alcohol last for hours, so even if your friends haven’t had a drink in a while, it could still be dangerous for them to drive. If you are in a healthy state of mind and have your driver’s licence on you, ask for the keys and get the group home safely.
  • Find another ride. Try to find another sober friends to give you a lift.
  • Call someone to pick you up. Okay, so you might not want to call Mom or Dad to get you from a party; but chances are, they’ll be happier that you called them rather than put yourself in a dangerous situation. You also could call another family member.
  • Crash at the host’s house. If possible, wait it out until morning and stay put. Just make sure to let someone know where you are and that you are safe.

The best advice: Plan ahead. If you know people will be drinking, pick a “designated driver” before you head out. Better yet, throw your own booze-free bash!

Read more facts and stats about impaired driving.

Teen boy in his car

Don't Be Fooled -- Even Your Phone App Could Be Advertising

As more and more people use smartphones, a world of virtual games, social networking, and fun apps are at their fingertips 24/7. Photo-sharing and exercise-tracking apps can be useful and fun. Others, though, may have devious intentions, like trying to get you hooked on smoking.

Cigarette advertising was banned from TV and sports stadiums because of the terrible health risks of smoking and because it was an easy and effective way to market cigarettes to youth. But with each technological advance, tobacco companies and other advertisers are looking for new ways to reach teens—even if that means developing games and free apps for your phone.

A study of available apps on Apple and Google Play during a single month in 2012 found 107 phone apps that promoted smoking! Some of these let users smoke virtual cigarettes while others compare cigarette prices.

Many of the virtual smoking apps allow you to “smoke with friends,” and they use catchy animations that make them seem like a game. Don’t be fooled.

Next time you download an app, pause a moment to ask: “Is this app just a game or is there a hidden message?”

A phone with apps around it.

Good Riddance: Peer Pressure

Peer pressure happens in every high school and middle school in the country, and is pretty much a part of growing up. Being pressured by your peers can be difficult and even stressful…it’s hard sometimes to go against the group and stand up for your beliefs and what you know is right. Here are 5 pointers that may help: 1. Hang out with people who share your beliefs about healthy living. True friends would respect how you feel and not try to pressure you into anything that didn’t feel right to you. 2. Join a club or a sports team. Keeping yourself busy with school and extracurricular activities will help you avoid boredom and be around people who share your interests. 3. If you find yourself in a sticky situation, get out! If you are hanging out after school or at a party on the weekend and someone offers you drugs or alcohol, make an excuse to leave and walk away. 4. If you find yourself cornered, crack a joke. The kids doing the pressuring won’t know what to do with someone who doesn’t take them seriously. 5. Keep in touch with an adult. If you feel like you can’t get yourself out of a situation, turn to a trusted adult for help or advice. You’ve probably heard all this before, but that’s because these things actually work! Saying no to peer pressure once makes it easier the next time and lets people know more about who you are. Your pressurers will come to understand that you are a self-confident person who thinks for yourself, even if they don’t say it to your face.