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HEALTH REPORT – February 19, 2003: Addiction and Girls - 2003-02-18

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

A study in the United States finds that girls and young women use tobacco, drugs and alcohol for different reasons than boys. It says young males generally use alcohol or drugs for excitement. Or they think it will make them more popular. Young females, however, may hope to feel happier or reduce tension or lose weight.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York released the findings. The center chairman, Joseph Califano, says prevention programs are often developed more for males. He called for programs designed for girls and young women.

There are physical, psychological and social effects from smoking, drinking and using drugs. The report says some of these may happen more quickly and severely in females. For example, it says they are more likely to become dependent on tobacco than males who smoke just as many cigarettes. And it says females have a greater risk of brain damage from too much alcohol.

The report notes general reductions in substance use by young Americans. But it says girls in many cases have caught up with boys in rates of use.

Here are some other findings:

Girls and young women who drink coffee are much likelier to smoke and drink alcohol -- and to start sooner -- than those who do not drink coffee. The report calls caffeine a "little known" warning sign.

Girls who do unhealthy things to lose weight drink more alcohol than those who do not diet -- even though alcohol can cause weight gain. Also, even girls who do healthy things to lose weight smoke more than those not on diets.

Puberty is a time of higher risk of substance use by girls, especially those whose bodies change early. Other times are when girls rise from elementary to middle school, from middle to high school, and from high school to college. And, girls who move often from one home or community to another are at greater risk than boys.

The report lists a number of warning signs to watch for. These include depression and too much concern about appearance. The study also reminds parents and other adults that they set examples -- good or bad -- by their own actions.

More than one-thousand-two-hundred girls and young women answered questions as part of the study. Most who talk with their parents about substance use said these talks made them less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.