Research Shows More Teens Try Drugs and Alcohol during Summer Months

Lighthouse Network’s Dr. Karl Benzio Says Summertime Freedom Can Contribute to Dangerous Experimentation

June 16, 2014

PHILADELPHIA—As the school doors close for the summer, kids are faced with more free time, new friends and perhaps more time away from the house and parents’ watchful eyes.

This summertime freedom could be the cause for a higher number of young people experimenting with drugs, smoking their first cigarette and trying alcohol in June and July than at any other time of the year, according to research from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“Once school lets out, kids have a feeling of newfound freedom,” said Dr. Karl Benzio, founder, executive director and a psychiatrist at the Lighthouse Network (, an addiction and mental health counseling helpline. “When you combine lack of structure, minimal supervision, and a lot of free time, you get a recipe for disaster. Oftentimes, kids may start hanging out with new friends who might not be good influences, and before you know it, teens and pre-teens can begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol—and this experimentation can turn into dangerous drug and alcohol abuse or addiction.”

SAMHSA’s study found that than 11,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 use alcohol for the first time on an average day in June or July. December was the only other month of the year that had comparable numbers. Meanwhile, throughout the rest of the year, the average daily number of adolescents using alcohol for the first time was from 5,000 to 8,000.

Similarly, an average of 5,000 12- to 17-year-old youths smokes cigarettes for the first time in June and July, as compared with 3,000 to 4,000 throughout the rest of the year. And more than 4,500 adolescents try marijuana for the first time in June and July. The report also looked at first-time pre-teen and teen use of substances such as inhalants, cocaine, hallucinogens and prescription medications. First-time hallucinogen and inhalant use also hit their highest levels during June and July.

To counteract the startling statistics, Benzio offers parents several tips for keeping their kids safe during the summer months.

“It’s important to plan ahead with your kids, communicate clear expectations of schedules and chores, encourage them to get a job, check in on them randomly, and be sure to plan some fun activities. Open communication lines are also vital, not only so you can help prevent your kids from trying anything dangerous but also so you can pick up on any struggles or potential struggles they may be facing or any drug or alcohol use that might start.

“Additionally, always be sure to keep your radar up, and don’t necessarily take what teens say at face value, particularly if you have other information that raises suspicion or is inconsistent with what your kids are saying or doing.

“Finally, make sure you talk to your kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol all throughout the year. As parents, we must remember it’s important to begin this conversation even with young kids. As we can see from this study, kids as young as 12 years old are experimenting with their first drug, smoking their first cigarette and taking that first drink of alcohol, and we as parents need to do everything we can to prevent this destructive behavior before it starts.”

Teen drug use or drinking may sometimes be coupled with mental issues as well, Benzio said, which can come out in violent and risky behavior and can stem from a lack of healthy decision-making and coping skills.

According to Mental Health America, warning signs of mental health issues in children and adolescents may include:

• Changes in school performance and poor grades
• Excessive worry or anxiety, demonstrated, for example, by refusing to go to bed
• Hyperactivity
• Persistent nightmares
• Persistent disobedience or aggression
• Frequent temper tantrums

Benzio adds that while these signs may seem overwhelming for parents, help is available, and the most effective help for long-term recovery is biblically based treatment. Lighthouse Network offers a free, 24-hour helpline, 1-844-LIFE-CHANGE (1-844-543-3242) for those who are struggling and for their family and friends. Lighthouse Network also provides online resources for those concerned about a friend or a loved one. Visit

Benzio shares insights on various mental health issues in the one-minute daily radio feature “Life Change with Dr. Karl,” airing on approximately 425 radio stations across the country, including 200 stations in the American Family Radio Network. The purpose of the “Life Change” program is to bring scientific expertise and biblical principles together to examine some common daily struggles and help people successfully navigate life’s obstacles and enjoy fulfilled lives. For more information on “Life Change with Dr. Karl,” visit

Lighthouse Network works to guide struggling people through storms to achieve peace and find answers for those who have a hard time defining their problems. Lighthouse Network also offers the free, 24-hour Lighthouse Life Change Helpline toll-free at 1-844-LIFE-CHANGE (1-844-543-3242).

Lighthouse Network’s web site,, provides information to those struggling to find help for their addiction problems, as well as to family members searching for help for a loved one. Topics addressed include alcohol abuse, addictions, and other mental health or life management issues.

Lighthouse Network offers several resources for those struggling with addiction and their families, such as Stepping Stones, a free daily devotional for managing life’s stressors and storms and equipping readers with healthy decision-making skills. Visit to read the devotionals and sign up to receive them daily via email.

For more information on Lighthouse Network, visit or call the Lighthouse Life Change Helpline toll-free at 1-844-LIFE-CHANGE (1-844-543-3242).


To schedule interviews with Dr. Karl Benzio at Lighthouse Network, contact Deborah Hamilton at, 215-815-7716 or 610-584-1096.

Lighthouse Network is a Christian-based, non-profit organization that offers an addiction and mental health counseling helpline providing treatment options and resources to equip people and organizations with the skills necessary to shine God’s glory to the world, stand strong on a solid foundation in the storms of their own lives, and provide guidance and safety to others experiencing stormy times, thus impacting their lives, their families and the world.

Dr. Karl Benzio, M.D. is the founder and executive director of Lighthouse Network. With a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering, Benzio went on to medical school and then specialized in psychiatry. His experiences include teaching pastors, ministry leaders and students counseling and conflict resolution skills in Uganda and Kenya; leading a behavioral health team into post-Hussein Iraq to equip health care specialists with treatment and assessment skills and successfully testifying for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives opposing legislation for Plan B contraception administration and for President George Bush’s Council on Bioethics regarding Right of Conscience. His specialties include Adolescents, Addictions, Decision-Making, Infusing Spirituality into Practical Treatment Modalities and the Ramifications of Decision-Making on Social Policy.

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