Let’s Talk About It: Healthy Youth Survey shows increase in substance abuse
April 22, 2014
By Noela Lu
The prevalence of substance abuse among teenagers is skyrocketing, as more youths are being challenged by emotional, mental and social difficulties.
In October 2012, the Issaquah School District conducted its fifth biennial Healthy Youth Survey among Issaquah sixth-, eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-graders. The anonymous survey asked about students’ physical activity and nutrition, drug abuse, emotional health and other “risky behaviors.” Questions regarding substance abuse made up more than half of the survey.
Today’s high school students experience laborious amounts of homework, time-consuming extracurricular activities and elevated parental expectations. As teenagers begin entering high school, some resort to substance abuse to cope with the additional stress and responsibility they didn’t face in middle school.
Among 223 Pine Lake Middle School sixth-graders surveyed, none reported current alcohol or cigarette use (meaning no students used alcohol or cigarettes in the past 30 days); however, among 348 Skyline High School 10th-graders surveyed, 5 percent admitted to current cigarette use and 24 percent admitted to current alcohol use.
Age and social norms are a crucial factor in teenagers’ usage of alcohol and drugs. As students get closer to the legal drinking age of 21, their attitude toward the harmful effects of alcohol shifts; they dismiss the risk of alcohol and drug abuse and start thinking, “All of my friends are drinking, so why can’t I?”
Their perception of social norms changes, as drinking at parties becomes a routine action. This mind shift is augmented with age. At Liberty High School, 18 percent of surveyed 10th-graders admitted to participating in current alcohol use. An astounding 45 percent of seniors there admitted to drinking alcohol in the past 30 days.
The commonality of substance abuse in the Issaquah School District can be reduced in two tasks by high school administrations: lessen the amount of homework students receive to help them transition between middle and high school, and enforce stricter alcohol and drug policies to dissuade students from thinking underage drinking is acceptable.
Today, teenagers are finding themselves struggling to make responsible decisions for their health. If school administrations and the district community work together, we have the capability to push students toward making healthy choices.