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Teen use of drugs, alcohol explored

DeKalb County teens who drink often get alcohol from parents or other adults, a survey shows.

The Illinois Youth Survey – administered to county middle and high school students in February – surveyed sixth- and eighth-graders, high school sophomores and seniors on topics such as drugs, alcohol, bullying and nutrition, said Anna Stevens, director of prevention and community education for the Ben Gordon Center.

Officials said they hope to use results from the survey to address specific issues with drug and alcohol use in schools throughout the county.

Two issues within the recently released survey results struck Stevens and BGC officials: The lower reported tobacco use but prevalence of marijuana use, and the responses regarding access to alcohol.

“For us, I think the most interesting thing is how many youth actually rate that they get their alcohol from their parents or older adults,” Stevens said.

Of eighth-graders, sophomores and seniors asked about their source of alcohol in the past year, all three groups most commonly cited social sources. For eighth-graders, the amount was 71 percent; for sophomores, it was 85 percent, and for seniors, it was 93 percent.

Those most often getting alcohol from a parent were eighth-graders: 57 percent said they obtained alcohol from a parent supply. For sophomores, it was 36 percent; for seniors, it was 33 percent.

Mary Hess, prevention specialist with the BGC’s prevention and education program, said the survey didn’t specify whether that was with or without parents’ permission, and she needed to clarify that with Illinois Youth Survey officials.

Forty-nine percent of eighth-grade alcohol users, 46 percent of sophomore alcohol users and 37 percent of 12th grade alcohol users reported they stole or took alcohol without permission.

While only 6 percent of eighth-graders and sophomore alcohol users said they purchased alcohol from a store, 14 percent of seniors said that was how they got alcohol.

Stevens said the BGC plans to work with local law enforcement agencies to address the issue of social hosting, which involves parents purchasing alcohol for their children and others to drink at their home.

Stevens said parents might think they are allowing children to consume alcohol in a safe environment, but that’s not the case.

“That should not be the way that parents think,” she said.

A state statute that takes effect Jan. 1 makes it a misdemeanor for adults to allow minors to drink alcohol on their property or in their homes, said Ryan Goodman, Sycamore police detective and school resource officer.

Educating parents about the dangers of children having access to alcohol is critical, too. Aaron Lockhart, a DeKalb police detective who works with DeKalb High School students, said he tends to see children taking alcohol from their parents’ supply without permission.

Parents should lock up any alcohol they have at home and keep it out of sight, he said.

Substance use among all four grades in the past year showed alcohol to be the most common drug. Of middle school students, 12 percent of sixth graders and 33 percent of eighth graders reported using alcohol.

Of high school students, 52 percent of 10th graders and 67 percent of 12th graders said they used alcohol in the past year.

For sixth graders, the second most common choice was inhalants. In eighth, 10th and 12th grades, it was marijuana.

Lockhart said that might be because teens don’t have to show identification when purchasing marijuana, whereas a legal cigarette purchase requires a person to be 18 years old.

Hess said the survey results give direction to the efforts of the BGC and the DeKalb County Partnership for a Safe, Active and Family Environment. By seeing which schools show students using certain substances, they can tailor their prevention and education resources to address problems, she said.

“The results of the Illinois Youth Survey really give us a good idea of the areas of substance use that we need to concentrate on with our youth,” Hess said. “It’s a fabulous tool schools can use and it comes at no charge to them.”

Parents interested in seeing the survey results from their child’s school should talk to the district superintendent, she said.

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