Back to School Survey: Teens' Take on Drugs, Alcohol in Schools

A survey of over 1000 12 to 17-year-olds across the United States revealed the drastically high rate at which schools are becoming increasingly “drug infected” as well as the easy accessibility that teens have to drugs. The “Back to School Survey”, published by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia), also covers teens’ perspectives on their attitudes toward drugs and alcohol and their parents’ opinions on drug and alcohol use, as well as the impact that drug and alcohol related images have on their peers.
The 2012 report stated that 60% of students reported that their schools are drug infected, meaning that drugs are used, kept or sold on school premises. Nearly 97% percent of students say that they have friends who use drugs or alcohol and nearly all students questioned said that they knew students who used while at school. Students estimated about 1 in 5 of their classmates are using drugs or alcohol while at school. This trend of drug infected schools isn’t specific to public schools. The gap between drug infected public and private schools has continually narrowed since the survey began in the early 1990s. In 2012, 54%, an increase of 50% from 2011, of students who attend private schools reported that their schools were drug infected.

The survey delved deeper than the statistics surrounding drugs and alcohol in the school environments. Surveyors also asked teens about pressures outside school that contribute to using drugs. Teens reported that they were less likely to use drugs, alcohol and cigarettes if their parents strongly opposed that behavior. In addition to parents’ views on underage drinking and illegal drug use, its been proven that engaging relationships between kids and parents can set a child up to withstand the inevitable peer pressure they will encounter throughout their adolescence. An article from Newsline Science explains that children who feel comfortable expressing their opinions and even engaging in arguments at home, are more likely to resist peer pressure from friends elsewhere.
Not only do teens’ own parents play a significant role in whether or not they experiment with drugs and alcohol, but studies show that the parenting styles of their friends’ parents affect their behavior regarding substance use.
However, while parental opinion did play a positive role in teens abstaining from illegal substance use, teens face a number of other outside influences that encourage drug and alcohol use. One factor that led to a spike in teens using drugs and alcohol was viewing images online of other teens drinking, using drugs and passed out. Researchers found that teens who saw pictures displaying this behavior on social networking sites were four times more likely to use marijuana and three times more likely to use alcohol than those who were not subjected to those images.
Over the course of the 20 years this survey has been in effect, the overarching finding is that teens who make it to the age of 21 without smoking, abusing alcohol or using drugs are very unlikely to do so in the remainder of their lives. The 2012 report’s findings serve to show parents, educators and school administrators the pressures that teens face all around them. With the knowledge that drugs and alcohol surround children, whether it be online or at school, adults can be better equipped to tackle these issues.  

Melany Boulton is a digital communications intern at Prichard Communications, where she assists on several accounts, including Reclaiming Futures. She is a recent graduate from the University of Oregon with a degree in public relations and a minor in business administration.
*Photo at top by flickr user globalbin

Updated: February 08 2018