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More to This Than Just a Blip in Life Expectancy 

         You may have heard passing news reports noting that the life expectancy rate for Americans has declined slightly dropping to 78.6 years. While this drop is just a tenth of a point, the reasons for the decline reveal a more serious cultural problem. 

         The Centers for Disease Control report noted that the suicide rate in America is now the highest it has been since 1975. Over 47,000 Americans took their life last year.  Over 70,000 Americans died from a drug overdose.   

         A story about this from a conservative social media news site had this to add in regard to our nation’s troubling loss of life and downturn in expectancy rates:

“According to Dr. Robert Redfield, “These sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable.” Dr. William Dietz added, “I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that that leads to drug use. It leads potentially to suicide.”

But what causeshopelessness? The Left and Right differ greatly on the answer. But common sense suggests the collapse of the family and even technology are foremost culprits. As columnist Mona Charen observes, “Due to unmarriage and divorce, more Americans are living alone than at any time in our history. Let me quickly acknowledge that the steep rise in adolescent depression in recent years may have more to do with social media than anything else.”

She adds, “Not only do divorce and rapidly cycling relationships (and living arrangements) leave adults and especially children emotionally scarred, the loss of secure families also leaves millions of people lonely. … We are not meant to be alone, and we don’t find emotional succor or physical satisfaction in relationships with screens.”

Fewer than 20,000 people are murdered every year (less than half of those with firearms), meaning suicides and drug overdoses vastly outnumber homicides. Yet far more attention is paid to murders and “gun violence.” But make no mistake: All of them are linked by an indifference for earthy life, which in turn stems from a mentality that’s devoid of gratitude, meaning, and, most importantly, spiritual direction. For these reasons, don’t hold out hope for the secular, fearmongering media to provide the right remedy.”

Teen Drug Use Pathway is Changing in Current Culture

         Speaking of drug problems and hopelessness impacting longevity, there is an interesting new study on substance abuse that has some mixed results.  It reveals that cultural messages have a strong impact upon behaviors.   The 20-year study has gotten some headlines for its conclusion that marijuana is a gateway drug.   Yet, this is hardly a new or unique finding.  

         What is more interesting is the role culture plays in youth behaviors.  The study notes that the prevalence of daily smoking among youth in the US, in 12th grade, has declined from about one third in 1977 to less than 5% last year.  Clearly decades of anti-smoking messages, pointing out the health dangers of cigarettes, has permeated the teen psyche in a positive way.  Thankfully, too, perhaps from drunk driving messages, youth alcohol use and binge drinking has also declined to historic lows.   However, the false message that marijuana is medicine, safe, or less harmful than alcohol, seems to be having an impact too. 

         Marijuana use has increased among youth with one in three adolescents now having used marijuana by the 12thgrade. What has changed even more is the “gateway sequence.”  It is this change that surprised researchers.   

         Teens are now far more likely than ever before, to use marijuana before tobacco or alcohol.  Previous studies have documented that individuals who use marijuana before cigarettes are historically more likely to be Black and minority youth and have more life adversity.  This is clearly changing with adolescent use, like adult use, becoming more mainstream. 

         Multiple studies have found that THC (the ‘high’ component in marijuana) exposure in adolescence influences reward sensitivity to other drugs, particularly opioids, and that adult marijuana users who started smoking pot in adolescence have impairments in memory and prefrontal as well hippocampal volume (brain development).

         The timing of substances in the “gateway” sequence is changing as public perceptions about tobacco and marijuana change, with “pot” now commonly becoming the first illicit substance abused by youth.   The full fruition of this change has yet to be seen in society. 

In Their Own Words:

         “The great faith that led our nation’s Founding Fathers to pursue this bold experience in self-government has sustained us in uncertain and perilous times; it has given us strength and inspiration to this very day. 
          Like them, we do very well to recall our “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” to give thanks for the freedom and prosperity this Nation enjoys, and to pray for continued help and guidance from our wise and loving Creator.”     – President George H.W.Bush, May 3, 1990.