Figuring Out Why Girls Go Wrong

In an era that emphasizes female equality, need we be surprised that girls are nearing parity with boys in substance abuse? Summing up its latest study, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse says, “Younger girls are smoking and drinking like boys,” and “High school girls are almost as likely as boys to use cocaine and inhalants.” One section of the study discusses smoking in relation to weight. As girls get older, they’re increasingly prone to see smoking as a weight-loss tool (see the chart). Likewise, the report says young women with eating disorders “use cocaine and other stimulants to control or lose weight.” But weight is scarcely the sole factor in girls’ susceptibility to substance abuse. Among high school seniors, 43.7 percent feel smoking “helps people relax”; 48.8 percent think “drinking alcohol helps one deal with sadness and depression.” Then there’s the old demon, peer pressure. Among 8th-grade girls, 29.5 percent say they feel such pressure to smoke, 23.3 percent feel pressed to drink and 10 percent feel pressure to use drugs. Even higher numbers of female high school seniors feel this peer pressure: to smoke, 40.5 percent; to drink, 46.4 percent; and to use drugs, 28.3 percent.