By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools for Havre Daily News
Although recent trends in youth drug use have shown the first significant downturn in usage levels, they remain at high levels, and it has been shown that the earlier drug use is initiated, the more likely a person is to develop drug problems later in life.
Youth substance abuse can lead to many other problems, including the development of delinquent behavior, antisocial attitudes and health-related issues. These problems not only affect the child, but can also influence the child's family, community and, ultimately, society.
According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, use prevalence rates of cocaine (including crack), methamphetamines and marijuana among local middle school and high students is declining. Yet, alcohol use remains constant, showing only a slight decrease in past-month use.
This is especially disturbing, given that national averages from 2001 were much lower in several categories. Nationally 47 percent of eighth-grade students have tried alcohol, compared with 62.2 percent of Havre middle school students; and 42.4 percent of high school students have used marijuana during their lifetime, compared with 50.9 percent for Havre High school students
Overall, male students (46.5 percent) were significantly more likely than female students (38.4 percent) to report lifetime marijuana use.
Consequences of use
Persistent substance abuse by young people often leads to academic difficulties, health-related problems (including mental health), poor peer relationships, and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Additionally, there are consequences for family members, the community, and the entire society.
Mental health problems, including depression, developmental lags, apathy, withdrawal and other psychosocial dysfunctions, are frequently linked to substance abuse among adolescents. Substance-abusing youth are at higher risk than nonusers for mental health problems, including depression, conduct problems, personality disorders, suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide and suicide. Marijuana use, which is prevalent among youth, has been shown to interfere with short-term memory, learning and psychomotor skills. Motivation and psychosexual/emotional development also may be influenced.
Substance abuse among youth has also been strongly linked to delinquency. Arrest, adjudication and intervention by the juvenile justice system are eventual consequences for many youths engaged in alcohol and other drug use. Substance abuse does not directly cause delinquent behavior, and delinquency does not directly cause alcohol and other drug use. However, the two behaviors are strongly correlated and often bring about school and family problems, involvement with negative peer groups, a lack of neighborhood social controls, and physical or sexual abuse.
Treating youths for substance abuse can be complicated. The normal factors that must be considered when admitting an individual to substance-abuse treatment include determining the severity of the substance use, cultural background, and presence of coexisting disorders. In addition, treatment programs dealing with youth must consider the individual's age, level of maturity, and the family and peer environment of the youth.
Adolescent treatment admissions (admissions between the ages of 12 to 17) to treatment facilities in the United States increased 38 percent between 1992 (95,000 admissions) and 2000 (131,176 admissions). Marijuana admissions grew from 23 percent in 1992 to 62 percent during 2000. Seventy-one percent of adolescent admissions were male, but this proportion was heavily influenced by marijuana admissions, where 76 percent were male. The male-to-female ratio was closer for other substances. About half (51 percent) of adolescent admissions to treatment in 2000 were referred by the criminal justice system. Seventeen percent were self or individual referrals, and 11 percent were referred through schools.
Arrests and adjudication
According to the FBI's "Crime in the United States," there were 139,238 juveniles (under the age of 18) arrested for drug abuse violations in 2001.
The number of juvenile court cases involving drug offenses more than doubled between 1993 and 1998. During 1998, juvenile courts in the United States handled an estimated 192,500 delinquency cases in which a drug offense was the most serious charge. While Hill County's numbers didn't double, they did follow that trend. Without broad-based, comprehensive prevention, intervention and treatment services, those rates will undoubtedly increase.
Parents are the single greatest influence on their children and their decision to use or not use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
Parents, increase your level of involvement with your children. Many children start pushing parents away, seeking independence, during the middle school years. This is actually when they need you the most. Be there. A parent can provide limits and love consecutively. That's what children need.
If you can't be there after school, know where they are and who they are with. A great option is the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line. Membership is open for youth ages 6-18 for $10 a year. School-year hours are 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
For more information about preventing alcohol, tobacco and other drug abuse, or parenting adolescents, contact the HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line at 265-6206.