There’s been a tremendous amount of attention paid to New Jersey’s heroin and opiate abuse epidemic lately, but drug abuse experts are advising parents to be aware of other substance abuse problems as well.

“Alcohol abuse is still, especially among younger teens, the number one drug of choice, and number one abused among that population,” said Angelo Valente, executive director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.

He stressed the importance of parents talking to their youngsters about the alcohol issue.

“We’re not hearing as much about the issue of alcohol abuse and alcohol use among minors, but I certainly think that we need to continue to be diligent about keeping that message up,” he said.

Valente says people across the Garden State “are having issues with accessing treatment for different types of addictions, and we need to be advocates for providing full service and providing full access.”

Ezra Helfand, executive director of the Wellspring Center for Prevention, agrees this is a serious issue.

“There is an overall shortage. I know the state is trying to work on that,” he said.

He noted a significant number of people are facing addiction issues, and they may lack the right kind of insurance for a specific treatment.

“There is a substantive lack of what they call ‘treatment beds’ in New Jersey and across the country,” he said. “Everybody is trying to deal with this issue.”

Valente stressed we need to keep in mind that “the abuse of alcohol is an entry level drug which leads to other drugs. We need to be able to continue to look at preventing, in particular, young people with experimenting at early ages because in many cases this can lead to addiction.”

He says research has shown that young people who are exposed to alcohol before the age of 14 are seven times more likely to become addicted to alcohol as adults.

"There’s no question that early use leads to addiction and we need to try to prevent early use as much as possible.’

Valente says alcohol for many is a gateway substance.

“People who abuse or are dependent on alcohol when they’re young are three times more likely to use marijuana, 15 times more likely to use cocaine and 40 times more likely to use RX opiate painkillers,” he said. “There’s no question there’s a direct link between alcohol abuse and other drugs.”

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