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Teenagers with Poor Sleep Habits Turn into High-Risk Adults

Adequate sleep for teenagers isn’t just important for their mental and physical health. A new study reveals that adolescents who have problems getting adequate sleep could be more susceptible to risky alcohol behaviors in adulthood, including binge drinking and driving drunk.

The Value of Quality Sleep

The research project, led by Maria M. Wong, professor and director of experimental training in the department of psychology at Idaho State University, was published in this month’s online edition of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. Wong’s team analyzed data from 6,504 adolescents (52 percent boys and 48 percent girls) and collected data over three distinct time periods (1994 to 1995, 1996 and 2001 to 2002).

Teens evaluated during the 1994-1995 period who experienced sleep difficulties ultimately suffered far more instances of “alcohol-related interpersonal problems, binge drinking…driving under the influence…and drug-related problems” later in life. An increase in risky sexual behavior was also a concerning trend among these same teens.

Sleep issues also led to an increased risk of alcohol use one year later and drug problems 3.5 years later. Even patients receiving treatment for alcoholism were more likely to relapse if they suffered some form of insomnia.

Sleep Disturbances in the Young

According to researchers, pre-teens who experience problems sleeping are at greater risk for substance problems later in life. Wong notes that the lack of sleep and overall tiredness in school-age children tends to hinder inhibition during adolescence, which can ultimately increase drug and alcohol-related issues in adulthood.

Wong’s findings are particularly poignant since the latest national polls show 27 percent of school-age children and 45 percent of adolescents don’t get enough sleep.

Drug Use Among Teenagers

Recent data shows that, while use of certain drugs has declined among teenagers, use of other drugs are on the rise. A February 2013 survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that alcohol, amphetamine, cocaine and hallucinogen use among teenagers has declined since 2006, but marijuana use has risen drastically. More than 36 percent of high school sophomores and seniors report smoking pot during the past year, while 22.9 percent admit to using during the last month.

Abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medications also declined slightly, but the issue remains a serious concern. Approximately 8.2 percent of high school seniors admit taking amphetamines without a valid prescription, while 7.6 percent report abusing Adderall without a doctor’s prescription.

Learn more about the available alcohol and drug abuse resources in your area.