By Bob Curley
A new report finds that more kids say they are using alcohol and other drugs, but many parents are unable or unwilling to deal with the issue -- a bad combination when declining support for prevention and cultural apathy about the issue leave parents as the last and sometimes only line of defense against adolescent drug use.
The 2009 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS), released March 2 by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA) and MetLife Foundation, reported rather dramatic year-over-year spikes in past-month alcohol use (up 11 percent) and past-year use of marijuana (up 19 percent) and ecstasy (up 67 percent) among U.S. students in grades 9-12.
PDFA chairman and CEO Steve Pasierb noted that all three are "social drugs," and the survey of more than 3,200 students, conducted by Roper Public Affairs, found "a growing belief in the benefits and acceptability of drug use and drinking." For example, the percentage of teens agreeing that "being high feels good" increased from 45 percent in 2008 to 51 percent in 2009, and those who said "friends usually get high at parties" increased from 69 percent to 75 percent. Thirty percent of students surveyed strongly agreed that they "don't want to hang around drug users," down from 35 percent in 2008.
"The resurgence in teen drug and alcohol use comes at a time when pro-drug cues in popular culture – in film, television and online – abound, and when funding for federal prevention programs has been declining for several years," according to a PDFA press release on the survey.
The reported spike in alcohol and other drug use and attitudinal shifts are startling enough to warrant skepticism about the validity of the findings. However, Pasierb notes that the PATS survey has been conducted using the same methodology for the past 21 years. The most recent Monitoring the Future survey, released in December, also found that use of illicit drugs has leveled off or increased after years of steady declines, and that youth attitudes about drug use appear to be softening. The 2009 PRIDE Survey of 6th- to 9th-graders reported small increases in current drug use, as well.
The PATS survey found that kids are almost as likely to get information on drugs from the Internet and websites like Youtube as from their parents, school, or media ads. "The preponderance of information that kids get online about drugs is pro-use, and to teens it's more credible," Pasierb told Join Together.
Perhaps the most surprising survey result is the reported increase in use of ecstasy -- a drug that, unlike alcohol and marijuana, has seemed to largely disappear from public consciousness since the mid-2000s. If the survey results are to be believed, more teens are now using ecstasy on a monthly (6 percent) or annual (10 percent) basis than at any point since 2004, and reported lifetime use is higher than ever reported since 1998.
Pasierb said that federal data shows that availability of ecstasy has not declined since 2001-02, and that prices for the drug have fallen. "There was just more news coverage then," he said.
"I don't buy the argument that drug use is cyclical," said Pasierb. "I think it's generational, and based on what we talk to our kids about." Drug-use trends among youth are "very malleable," he added, and what is considered cool or popular can change rapidly from the time a kid enters high school to when they graduate.
Parents Waging a Lonely Battle -- Or Not
About 20 percent of the parents surveyed by PATS believed that their children had gone beyond the experimental phase in use of alcohol or other drugs. However, almost half of these parents either did not take any action (25 percent) or waited for between a month and a year to address the perceived problem (22 percent).
Parents of children engaging in non-experimental drug use were less confident in their ability to influence their kids' drug-use decisions, according to the survey, and were more likely to believe that all teens will experiment with drugs and that occasional use of alcohol or marijuana is tolerable.
"Parents with drug-using kids have never been served by our field," said Pasierb. "They're the outliers, and they should be the focus." PDFA has developed a program called Time to Act that is designed to improve parental knowledge about teen alcohol and other drug use, set rules and boundaries, intervene when necessary, and seek outside help when needed.
"Government prevention programs have all been defunded, and society is not on our side. It's all on the parents now," said Pasierb. "Parents are convinced that their kids are getting all this (drug prevention) in school, and it's just not true. The doctor, school, or football coach is not going to step in."
COMMENTS ON THIS ARTICLE:
Posted by Dan Iser on 03 Mar 10 11:10 AM EST
It would appear that the "cultural apathy" has also filtered into the decisionmaking process that our congressional leaders utilize to determine funding for prevention. Most recently they voted to eliminate the state grants portion of the federal safe and drug-free schools program. This program provided nearly $300 million in funds to all school districts across our nation. Congress eliminated this valuable program because the amount that the average school district received was not enough to make a real difference in prevention substance abuse and violence. Many school-community anti-drug coalitions will be devasted by this action once the flow of funding stops during the 2010-2011 school year. Isn't it about time that we adopted a lesson learned by the tobacco lawyers. We need to sue someone and even perhaps the federal government itself. In realitity it was the Supreme Court that reversed prohibition that allowed the free flow of alcohol across our nation. And isn't it the responsibility of our legal and judicial system at the federal level to stop the passage of heroin and other illegal substances from coming across our borders. How often do you hear that federal agents have been monitoring the flow of illegal drugs from Mexico, South America, etc., and then from one state to another, and finally to the street corner of our communities. This process takes months and even years in order to "build a solid case". In the meantime, more of our children and young adults continue to make purchases and are well on their way to becoming full blow addicts.
Posted by Susie Vanderlip on 03 Mar 10 11:54 AM EST
This article confirms what I'm seeing especially over the last 6 months as a significant decrease in school and societal acknowledgement of the alcohol and drug use and abuse problem among teens. I am a prevention and healthy choices speakers to teens in middle and high schools and the interest in assemblies addressing these issues has severely declined in recent months. Yes, school budgets are struggling, but even Obama's state of the union address did not mention the alcohol/drug issue, and funding has been cut to Safe and Drug Free Schools. Add to that the push to legalize marijuana and apparent message to teens that pot is "safe and everybody's doing it," we are creating the perfect storm for an epidemic alcohol and drug problem in the current generation of youth and into their adult/family futures.
Posted by Lorinda Strang - Orchard Recovery Center on 03 Mar 10 11:55 AM EST
Time to Act - A must read for all parents
Posted by Diane on 03 Mar 10 12:21 PM EST
An interesting statistic to me is that "the percentage of teens agreeing that "being high feels good" increased from 45 percent in 2008 to 51 percent in 2009". Would people really get high if it didn't "feel good"? It's like saying "people eat to fill full". The other reason people use (besides after become addicted) is what?
Posted by A Parent on 03 Mar 10 12:51 PM EST
Let's stop whining about the decrease in government funding and put the pressure to educate our children about drugs, alcohol, and life in general where it should be - the parents. Our schools can't even adequately educate our children in normal educational areas (reading, writing, math, science). How will they ever be able to if they're also having to raise our children?
Posted by Ruth on 03 Mar 10 01:38 PM EST
Being a parent of a recovering addict I started a Life Skills Prevention Org.In order to prevent addiction, teaching life skills from 5th grade on is imperative..boosting self-esteem as well as giving students the tools to make healthy choices in order to live life on life's terms. For this to have a better chance of working, parents need to be involved in this process through forums and workshops, to be heard.and able to seek advice through Q & A. On another note; maybe when kids say "being high feels good" they are those in the experimental stage,and are they really feeling good? Or, are they running from themselves and that's what feels good? If those in the addiction stage were asked I know the answer would not be the same....they're not feeling good..they're not feeling! We owe it to the next generation of adults, our children, to prevent addiction and their consequences by teaching life skills, working with parents and present Staff Development in Schools. Proact not React!!!!
Posted by Dave on 03 Mar 10 01:43 PM EST
The other reason people use is to stop feeling bad. Depression, anxiety, problems in living all can be (temporarily) removed with alcohol or drugs. You may not feel good, but at least you don't feel so bad. In recovery we need to address both issues: people need to find new healthy ways to get "high" and they also need to find ways to cope with stress and other things that make them unhappy. From a prevention standpoint, these skills are precisely what parents can model to their children to protect them from the increasingly addictive character of our culture. The problem though is not only that the parents lack confidence or hope that they can help their kids; even more its that the parents themselves are engaging in addictive behaviors focussed on self-centered, pleasure oriented quick fixes. What we need is a new spirit of community and mutual responsibility rather than the post modern nihilism or the know-it-all fundamentalism that currently dominates our culture. These statistics are truly frightening: we could be seeing the beginning of the decline and fall of European/U.S. culture.
Posted by Jerry Epstein on 03 Mar 10 01:48 PM EST
The National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse commissioned by President Nixon - 1973 report "Drug Use In America: Problem in Perspective" "We are convinced that public policy, as presently designed, is premised on incorrect assumptions ... " Unless present policy is redirected, we will perpetuate the same problems, tolerate the same social costs, and find ourselves as we do now, no further along the road to a more rational legal and social approach than we were in 1914." Their main target was alcohol (over 80% of all drug use and addiction) and (for all drugs) the vital distinction between use and abuse The foofaraw about SPECIFIC drugs and periodic faddish fluctuations just distracts from fundamental analysis. Prohibition = drug cartels = schools flooded with all drugs at a critical age. False assumptions still abound; policy must be " redirected." Parents ability to educate is damaged by the hypocrisy and much more.
Posted by Susie Vanderlip on 03 Mar 10 01:53 PM EST
Diane asked, "The other reason people use is what?" The answer from my experience is to cope with/avoid feelings. Thousands of conversations with using teens after school assemblies and via email has made it abundantly clear to me that many use to cope with feelings they do not have a clue about what to do with: grief, loss, self-loathing, abandonment, verbal abuse wounds, hopelessness plus PTSD and persistent anxiety from the influence of domestic violence throughout childhood and more. I recommend we focus on developing healthy emotional coping skills in youth - call it stress management if you must - but deal with some of the underlying emotional issues.
Posted by MyThoughts on 03 Mar 10 02:33 PM EST
It's true, it's all about the parents. We are the ones who brought them into the world and it's up to us to teach them about it. I would never assume someone else is doing this for my kids especially gov't or any institution for that matter. I have to say that I have surrounded myself with people who mostly think like I do and I feel that they aid me in my dialog with my kids but I do not depend on them to set a direction for my kids. It takes a village to find others who can help but it still comes down to what you do personally (as well as your level of knowledge on the subject). Stop looking for others to do what you should be doing and start doing it now(find out and take action). Sorry if you read brashness or directness it's just the best way I believe to approach a subject like this. Kids will learn about their world... if you are involved you will be less surprised by the outcome of the lessons learned. It is a shame that kids find it easier to get illicit drugs in school than some very resourceful parents but that is a direct characteristic of the current prohibition policy and that my friends is another very related topic.
Posted by John from Oceanside on 03 Mar 10 04:31 PM EST
Look at the numbers. The drug legalizers Drug Policy Alliance(DPA) and Marijuana Policy Project(MPP) keep stating President Bush's failed drug policy but in the bush years he cut drug use 25% over his 8 years in office. Since the Obama administration has taken over he has let his statement about marijuana be spinned by DPA and MPP. His statements are no different than President Bush but when DPA and MPP spin his words the next day he has the Drug Tzar respond but the media never picks up his statements. This is al