Editorial: Teen drinking normalized?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 14, 2011

Although abuse of prescription medications is on the rise among young people, as detailed in a recent Salisbury Post feature, alcohol remains their drug of choice.
A study by The Partnership at Drugfree.org provides some disturbing insight into why alcohol abuse among teens remains a chronic problem, even with recent declines in use. Teens just donít see underage drinking as a big deal, even drinking to excess ó a particularly relevant issue as we enter the season of prom parties and graduation celebrations. In psychological parlance, drinking has become ěnormalizedî behavior among a significant portion of the nationís youth. For just how normalized, consider these findings:
About 35 percent of teens reported drinking alcohol in the past month.
Almost half of teens (45 percent) reported they do not see a ěgreat riskî in heavy daily drinking (five or more alcoholic drinks).
Only 31 percent of teenagers strongly disapprove of teens and peers their age getting drunk.
A majority of teens, seven out of 10 (73 percent), report having friends who drink alcohol at least once a week.
While teen drinking showed an overall decline between 2002 and 2008, then leveled off in 2009, the partnership study found upward trends in marijuana and Ecstasy use among those in grades 9 through 12. About 15 percent of teens said they had smoked marijuana in the past month, unchanged from the previous survey year; 6 percent said they had used Ecstasy, up from 4 percent in 2008.
Put all those statistics together, and they help explain another finding: Parents feel ill prepared to respond to underage drinking and substance abuse. Almost a third (28 percent) feel ěthere is very little parents can do to prevent their kids from trying alcohol.î Not only are teens not getting the message at home, but budget cutbacks are reducing drug education and prevent programs in schools and communities, according to Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org.
To help parents who believe their child is developing a drug or alcohol problem, the partnership has set up an online site, timetogethelp.drugfree.org, that offers guidance, support and the opportunity to share experiences with others. For parents, itís important to recognize that examples, actions and attitudes do make a difference. Theyíre the first, last and best line of defense. Communication and intervention have an impact, and the sooner you seek help, the better the chance of a successful outcome.