PCN survey shows youth overestimate substance abuse

Published 8:42 am Monday, June 5, 2017

A student survey showed that almost half of Austin middle school and high school students believe their fellow students drink alcohol monthly or more often.

But the same survey also showed that 91 percent of students said they did not drink alcohol monthly, or more often.

That misperception about how many students actually drink is one of three key findings of the Positive Community Norms survey, conducted in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division. Results are based on 1,770 surveys taken of Austin students in grades seven to 12.

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The first finding says that most youth are making good decisions and have healthy, protective beliefs about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. The second says youth “drastically over-estimate” the prevalence of alcohol, tobacco and drug use among their peers, which puts them at greater risk for using substances themselves.

The third finding says too many youth are using illegal or dangerous substances.

The survey supports a belief held by the Austin Positive Action Coalition, whose members help guide a five-year Planning and Implementation grant whose focus is reducing underage alcohol consumption through the use of positive community norms messages. The messages are part of the coalition’s “Truth is” media campaign. Positive facts, APAC argues, results in positive acts.

Planning and Implementation Coordinator Bill Spitzer said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the results.

“We are very pleased with the participation — over 80 percent,” he said.

A major priority will be to close the gap between reality and perception, especially in the area of drinking within a 30-day period. Of all substances, use of alcohol is most pervasive, according to earlier studies.

“And we’ll do that with positive messaging — via marketing, promotion, in the classroom, and with the help of parents — and positive alternative activities” to drinking alcohol.

He also noted that he realized a reaction to many such surveys is that kids lie on the survey.

He noted that in the eight communities that landed similar grants, “students generally responded in the same way.”

“The chance of students, who took the tests at different times, lying on the very same response, in different communities — that seems astronomically impossible to me,” Spitzer said.

The survey is divided into four sections: Student behaviors, student attitudes, parental guidance and peer support for non-use.

The end of the survey includes key actions, which includes discussing the survey with community leaders, create messages that correct misperceptions about youth’s use or alcohol or drugs; promote intervention and treatment options, use data to frame and guide policy development; and steer public conversations in a way that includes positive norms.

“While most of our students are making good decisions, the negative impacts for those that do use can be devastating,” the report said. “We must take action to prevent underage substance abuse. We can increase the number of youth who make healthy decisions by correcting their misperceptions about their peers’ use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs using the Positive Community Norms approach to prevention.”

Highlights of the report (percentages are combined between middle school and high school):

Student behaviors

•91 percent say they don’t drink alcohol in a typical month

•61 percent say they would leave a party if teens were drinking alcohol

•81 percent say they would ever use marijuana; 93 percent said they would never use prescription drugs; and 78 percent said they would never use any kind of tobacco.

•93 percent of the combined groups say they do not drink and drive.

Student attitudes

•80 percent of students said they would rather not drink alcohol when hanging out with friends.

•74 percent of students said drinking alcohol is never a good thing to do.

•81 percent of students said getting drunk is never a good thing to do.

•71 percent of students said using marijuana is never a good thing to do.

Parental guidance

•78 percent of students said parents and guardians should clearly communicate with students the importance of not using alcohol.

•71 percent of students said parents should not let teens drink.

•94 percent of students said parents do not allow them to drink alcohol at home.

•82 percent of students said parents would feel it was wrong for them to drink any alcohol.

Peer support for non-use:

•71 percent of students agree they would try to discourage a friend from hosting a party where teens would be drinking.

•68 percent of students said they would try to discourage a friend from drinking alcohol.

•73 percent of students said they do not feel pressured to drink alcohol by their friends.

•66 percent of students said they would discourage a friend from trying marijuana.