The link between marijuana, alcohol and teenage fatalities


In 2011, around 2,650 teens in the U.S. ages 16 to 19 were killed in a motor-vehicle crash. This means that at least seven teens within this age range die everyday from motor vehicle injuries.  For teens and young adults ages 16 to 20, car crashes are the number one cause of death and the chances only increase with the presence of drugs or alcohol.

Many factors can play into the horrible incident of a teen car crash. However, parents may want to look at marijuana or alcohol as more of a culprit than texting or distracting passengers. It has been found that at least half of the teen and young adult drivers who die in a car crash were under the influence of pot, alcohol or both.

A recent study published in the journal Injury Epidemiology was done in states where toxicology screening for accident victims is routine. The study was done to understand the effects of drug control policies on substance abuse behavior and adverse health outcomes such as a fatal car crash. The study’s researchers analyzed data on 16 to 25 year olds taken from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which is a federal database of fatal crashes focused on California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington and West Virginia.

The researchers found that half of the young drivers, up to 50.3 percent, whose lives were lost in a car crash were drunk or high when the fatal crash occurred. In total, up to 36.8 percent of the victims tested positive for alcohol while 5.9 percent tested positive for marijuana. Up to 7.6 percent, however, tested positive for both substances. Those above the age of 21 were 14 percent more likely to test positive for alcohol and slightly more likely to test positive for a combination of alcohol and marijuana. That means of the 2,650 teens who lost their lives in 2011, around 1,300 or more of those who died were under the influence of pot, alcohol or both.

From there, researchers worked to find out if at-risk adolescents were using marijuana and alcohol as substitutes for one another. This branch of the study’s results would be used to explore specific policy changes such as whether changing the legal drinking age to 18 would decrease drug use. This is a change that would only work if young adults dropped one substance for another rather than doubling up. Researchers looked at accident fatalities for those who were 16 to 25 years old to see how the ability to drink alcohol at age 21 affected drug use. They discovered that in victims who were over 21, the chances of finding both alcohol and marijuana were 22 percent higher than in those victims under 21. This meant that the availability of alcohol had little effect on young people’s use of marijuana.

Researchers also pointed out that the increasing legalization and availability of marijuana doesn’t seem to be decreasing alcohol usage. Rather, it is increasing the chances of the combined use of the two, which, as a result, increases the chances of a fatal crash. Also, for those who tend to use more than one substance, the legality of alcohol seemed to increase the use of marijuana as well.

This study isn’t just important for those trying to consider beneficial policy changes; it’s important for parents and teens, too. It emphasizes the increased likelihood of death or serious harm when one drives under the influence. It also has brought light to the fact that the combination of alcohol and marijuana is also a serious danger when driving.

The threat of death due to driving under the influence of alcohol and/or marijuana is just one of the many adverse effects that accompany substance use. Use of marijuana and alcohol, whether in combination or individually, provides serious issues to teens and young adults. It can and will alter their brain and development and increase the chances of other issues such as use of other drugs, health issues or risky behavior.

For those teens who are using alcohol and/or marijuana, it is best to find treatment to stop this pattern of use as soon as possible. If you would like to learn more about treatment for teen marijuana use or treatment for teen alcohol use you can visit or call 866-520-0905 for more information.

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