NIDA Gives Teens the Straight Dope on Drugs

A guest post from NIDA’s Sara Bellum Blog team.

The teen years: Emotional turmoil.
Rampant physical changes. A still-developing brain. It's no wonder that adolescence
is a time that holds both promise and risk. Teens are hard at work, through
experience and social interactions, constructing and sharing a narrative to establish their unique place
in the world—one separate from family.
N4T_Logo_hi res

In the Journal of Social Marketing (February 2013), the National
Institute on Drug Abuse

(NIDA) and IQ Solutions published a case study on NIDA’s Sara Bellum Blog (SBB), an online forum where
teens can engage with NIDA scientists, teachers, and each other to learn the
science behind drug abuse and share comments.

In the case study, the
NIDA blog team
set out to show how SBB can engage teens around the
neuroscience of addiction and, in the process, take advantage of a developmental
window for promoting healthy decision-making.

Sharing Stories, Shaping Awareness

Teen brains are messily wired for
thrill-seeking, boredom-avoiding, and emotionally charged experiences. Teens
today—steeped in a confession-drenched culture through TV, social media, and
online worlds they create—grow up expecting to validate their experiences through
sharing.

Yet, without the facts, online
forums may merely be echo chambers amplifying myths about drugs and addiction.

SBB, as a social medium, provides
scientists a chance to inject reason into the conversation. Consider the conversation
between commenters that grew out of a question posed by a high school student: “Why does peer pressure influence teens to
try drugs
?”

SBB presented research showing
that when friends are watching, teens behave in ways that adults might deem
reckless—like speeding through a yellow light. In the anonymous comments
section, some readers exchanged thoughts about the far-reaching effects of peer
pressure. @Jason commented (excerpted),

So,
after falling prey to peer pressure and getting into weed, I'm beginning my
journey towards recovery. I will be going to…get help for my addiction. If you
are thinking of doing pot, I can only say don't start. My life has been totally
wrecked by the drug, even though it was supposed to be "harmless".
I'm a senior and I'm going to …rehab…, but this isn't the way I anticipated
finishing high school…

@Gabby responded,

thats great Jason!! i hope you stay clean!! and im
almost done with highschool and drugs messed up my life… i have been clean
for 6 months!! if there is anyway u wanna talk to me more and get to know each
other let me know.. i love helping other people.

Other posts open the window for NIDA experts to
debunk misinformation perpetuated by commenters. In a post presenting new
research showing that long-term marijuana use can lower IQ, @shake’n’bake said
(excerpted),

[Marijuana]
comes out of the ground and that means that God created it. If you would just
try it you would change your mind.

Responding to help dispel what is a
common myth among teens, NIDA replied (excerpted),

…There are many natural things that are harmful or even deadly that come out of
the ground.

Beyond responding to comments, NIDA
uses the insights it gleans from comments to develop new, relevant content. For
example, NIDA responded to the comment above by authoring the blog post “Can
It Be Bad If It’s Natural?

SBB stands as an example that shared online engagement promotes
listening and healthy interchanges around sensitive subjects, where offering
facts and engaging without judgment can defang real-life drama.

SBB provides a refereed forum for teens to grapple with how
everyday decisions shape the narrative of their lives.

Sara Bellum Blog team members Robin Stevens Payes,
Everly Macario, and Sarah Byrnes contributed to this story.

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