Washington Girls and young women get hooked on cigarettes, alcohol and drugs more quickly and for different reasons than boys, and should receive specialized treatment that reflects that, according to a study released Wednesday.
Teenage girls often begin smoking and drinking to relieve stress or alleviate depression, while boys do it for thrills or heightened social status, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
"(Girls) get hooked faster, they get hooked using lesser amounts of alcohol and drugs and cocaine, and they suffer the consequences faster and more severely," said Joseph A. Califano Jr., chairman of the center.
Califano said prevention and treatment centers needed to design their programs to deal with the risk factors leading to female substance abuse.
"With some exceptions, the substance abuse prevention programs have really been designed with a unisex, one-size-fits-both-sexes mentality," said Califano, who served as health and human services secretary under President Carter. "We now know that girls are different than boys -- let's recognize it, and let's help them."
The study, based on a nationwide survey of more than 1,200 females age 8 to 22, found little difference in the percentage of boys and girls who smoke, drink and use drugs.
Approximately 45 percent of high school girls drink alcohol, compared with 49 percent of boys, and girls outpace boys in the use of prescription drugs, the study found.
Researchers determined girls were also more likely to abuse substances if they reached puberty early, had eating disorders or were ever physically or sexually abused. Their likelihood of using cigarettes, alcohol or drugs also increased if their families moved often or when girls advanced from middle school to high school or from high school to college.
As they reach puberty and develop into teenagers, "girls are likelier than boys to compare themselves physically and academically to their new peers, increasing the doubts they feel about themselves," the study said.
Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., voiced support for the study's main recommendation -- that parents, educators and doctors become familiar with the warning signs and intervene quickly with girls at risk.
Clinton said she would introduce legislation aimed at boosting public awareness of prescription drug abuse and requiring hospitals to track such problems better.
The study faults alcohol and tobacco companies for promoting their products by linking them to glamorous models, and it calls for a ban on alcohol advertising on television and cigarette and alcohol advertising in magazines with large numbers of young readers.