Feb. 8, 2006 -- During his State of the Union address, President Bush said that drug use among youth was down 19 percent since 2001. But according to a White House report being released Thursday, drug use among girls is not falling as quickly as it is for boys.
That has raised concerns about whether the message about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and smoking is not reaching girls as well as it is getting to boys.
"The reason we're pointing to this alarming trend is because if we're going to get girls to continue to decline in drug use effectively, we're going to have to deal with those causes which are different," said drug czar John Walters.
The report reveals that in 2004, the most recent year studied, 1.5 million girls started using alcohol -- 173,000 more than the number of boys who started drinking.
The same went with smoking cigarettes and marijuana use: 729,000 girls -- 164,000 more than boys -- started smoking cigarettes, and 675,000 girls -- 98,000 more than boys -- started using marijuana.
The reason, said Dr. Keith Ablow, child psychologist and author, is that girls are under a lot of stress because of their changing roles in society. They are abusing drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, he said.
"I think we're deluging young girls with certain expectations," he said. "They're watching dramas on television that ask them to have relationships where girls are deciding between two boys at such an early age. Fashion is designed for adults but in little sizes."
"We're going to have to focus on the particular, unique circumstances we're faced with girls, which is different today than it's ever been before, which has obstacles we've not faced before, but obstacles we can overcome if we do the right thing," Walters said.
On the home front, Ablow said that parents should behave like detectives and assume there might be a problem, especially if a girl is exhibiting low self-esteem.
"We want to believe our families are perfect," he said. "That's understandable, but better would be to say, let's think what might be wrong. Let's make sure we don't get into denial and become very sensitive to what might be going on in the lives of our daughters."
Ablow, who has a 7-year-old daughter, said to pay attention if a girl's grades began to slip or if she lost interest in activities that she once enjoyed.
"Drug use and abuse is a symptom," he said. "Almost always -- I'd say always -- of an underlying, other deeper problem. In this case, we're looking at depression, attention-deficit problems, potentially eating disorders."