Pubdate: Wed, 05 Jul 2006
Source: Valley Echo, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 The Valley Echo
Author: Carmen Thompson, Drug and Alcohol Prevention Worker
Bookmark: (Youth)


As the Drug and Alcohol Prevention Worker at David Thompson Secondary
School (DTSS), I take note of press coverage of youth issues,
especially in the Columbia Valley. In the last months, a number of
community members have expressed concern about youth substance use.
While I take heart in the level of care expressed by these
individuals, I also wonder if a disproportionate amount of negative
press has the potential to slant public perception in this area.

Much of my concern is based on something called social norms theory.
This theory suggests that because peer groups exert a strong influence
during adolescence there is a tendency for youth to make decisions
about their behaviour based on their perceptions of social norms. As a
result, youth often consume drugs and alcohol in excess because they
have exaggerated ideas about the amount their peers consume. Adults
reinforce this trend when they, in turn, overestimate and make
generalizations about adolescent drug and alcohol use. Research shows
that public misperceptions tend to be media based, and that one of the
best ways to counter them is through counter-marketing that provides
accurate data on youth substance use.

So, with the hope of presenting an unbiased view of youth substance
use issues in or community, I have pulled some statistics from a 2005
Adolescent Drug Use Survey. This survey, conducted by East Kootenay
Addictions Services Society, shows the following trends among David
Thompson Secondary students:

50.64% of DTSS students use alcohol less than once a month or not at
all and 34.35% use alcohol 1-3 days a month. Only 15.78% of DTSS
students use alcohol once a week or more.

76.91% of DTSS students smoke marijuana less than once a month or not
at all and 9.19% use marijuana 1-3 times a month. Only 14.44% of
students smoke marijuana 1-2 days a week or more.

The majority of students who have tried drugs or alcohol did so at a
family celebration or out of curiousity rather than to fit in or feel

83.54% of DTSS students have never used mushrooms.

92.82% of DTSS students have never used cocaine or

95.44% of DTSS students have never used LSD.

97.19% of DTSS students have never used ecstasy.

98.19% of DTSS students have never used crystal meth.

While the results of this study can be, and have been, interpreted in
a number of different ways to support a number of different causes,
one result is clear: the majority of students at DTSS do not abuse
substances; they use them recreationally or not at all.

Having said this, I do not want to minimize the severe impact that
drug and alcohol abuse has. The small minority of students who use
substances on a regular basis report higher rates of the following:
binge drinking, using in a vehicle, conflict with their parents,
problems at school, unwanted or unplanned sexual activity, being
charged with a crime, being a passenger in a vehicle with a driver who
has been using alcohol or drugs, and having driven a vehicle after
using alcohol or drugs.

It is clear that for adolescents who use substances regularly a
healthy degree of concern and adequate resources are required. The
intent of this letter is not to minimize the harmful consequences of
regular drug and alcohol use.

Rather, I am suggesting that the assumption that regular substance use
is the norm, blinds us to its severe consequences, and inadvertently,
inflates the amount youth choose to use.

Carmen Thompson

DTSS Drug and Alcohol Prevention Worker
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