Students Admit To Having A Drink
by Janese Heavin, of the Tribune's staff, (02 Jul 2006) Columbia Daily Tribune Missouri
The majority of Columbia teens have at least sipped alcohol in their lives, a recent survey shows.
Columbia Public Schools gives ninth-graders a state-mandated drug and alcohol survey every two years. In February, 1,366 students, including a sampling of 11th- and 12th-graders, completed the 121-question survey.
Seventy-one percent admitted taking at least one drink of alcohol. On the flip side, 63 percent said they had never tried marijuana, and about 95 percent said they had never used psychedelic drugs, cocaine, methamphetamine or "club drugs" such as ecstasy.
The survey "confirms our suspicions," said Becky Markt, coordinator for the Youth Community Coalition, a drug prevention group. "From what we've seen, alcohol is the biggest problem for teens here."
Markt said she believes the surveys accurately represent drug and alcohol use among local teens, although teens aren't forced to answer the questions honestly. To combat false answers, the state includes some "dummy" questions on the survey. If a teen answers those incorrectly, the survey is disregarded.
Markt said there are a couple of ways to look at the statistics. "You have to look at both sides of the coin," she said. "If 65 percent aren't using, that still leaves us with 35 percent who are and who should not be."
Some say people are in denial about drug abuse among teens.
"We conducted a community readiness assessment in January, and what we found was that the community, in general, was in a stage of denial or vague awareness of any problem," Markt said. "That's why we're focusing a lot of our efforts on awareness and education."
Resident Jim Denninghoff said he is aware of the problem but agrees many people are not. "The problem is far greater than people are willing to acknowledge," he said.
Since 2003, about 50 Columbia teenagers have sought help for drug addiction from the St. Louis-based Crossroads Program. Other students sought help from the facility before that year, but Director Mike Weiland did not know how many. A Crossroads support group has been in Columbia for about five years, and by 2003, the demand for services was great enough Crossroads opened an administrative office here.
Crossroads is an outpatient treatment program that links addicted youths to support families. Local teens spend six to 12 weeks with a support family in St. Louis because "there's too much heat for them in Columbia," Weiland said. Participating families attend support group meetings when teens return home.
Markt hopes the survey data will help make the public aware of how teen drug use affects the community.
According to the International Institute for Alcohol Awareness, Missouri ranks 11th among the 50 states for the cost per youth of underage drinking. Direct costs of underage drinking resulting from medical care and loss of work cost Missouri $493 million each year, the agency reports.
But Markt said other effects are less obvious to pinpoint.
"The basic thing is we need to remember that these kids in our community deserve to have successful, meaningful lives," she said. "If there are substances involved as they're growing up, it's less likely that's going to happen."
*SWIM has a few things to say about this article.
First of all, just because a large percentage of students have had at least ONE alcoholic drink in their lifetime, doesn't mean they have a problem with alcohol. Granted some might, but SWIM doubts that 71% of the city's high school students are alcoholics. This article makes it sound like if a teenager has one sip of beer, he has a drinking problem. "Seventy-one percent admitted taking at least one drink of alcohol." SWIM bets at least 71% of the newspaper's staff had at least one drink before they turned 21, even if it was just sharing a beer with dad.
Second of all, the last quote in the article is as follows: "The basic thing is we need to remember that these kids in our community deserve to have successful, meaningful lives. If there are substances involved as they're growing up, it's less likely that's going to happen."
It's fair to say that if someone has a substance abuse problem, it can get in the way of leading a successful, meaningful life. But to say that if someone is exposed to drugs while they're young, they're probably going to fail in life; that's going a little over the line. SWIM is sure that a large majority of the musicians, filmmakers, and other pop-culturally successful people used to do drugs when they were kids, while their career was taking off, and even in present life. Just look at Tommy Chong . Unfortunately, the fact that so many of the greatest artists of the world died from drug overdoses kind of throws what SWIM is trying to say in the trash. But I think you understand what SWIM is trying to say.