Youth drug use trending downward: survey

East Kootenay Addictions Services Society releases findings on latest adolescent drug use survey.

Substance abuse in youth around the East Kootenay region is in a downward trend, according to a new survey from the East Kootenay Addictions Services Society.

“Overall, the survey was a success, we had a good participation rate, glad to see that substance use generally is on a downward curve or plateaued,” said Dean Nicholson, the executive director of the EKASS.

While substance abuse numbers are generally trending downward, there are some other interesting conclusions that can be drawn when the data is broken down.

Binge-drinking continues to be a concern, but alcohol-impaired driving has decreased.

The survey also noted that acquisition of prescription drugs comes mainly from home prescriptions and not from street dealers and that e-cigarettes are becoming more popular than traditional tobacco for young users.

Addressing screen technologies, such as social media and video-gaming was a new component of the survey this time around, which concluded that roughly half of the respondents noted that excessive screen time was having a negative impact on their daily life.

Nicholson has been doing the surveys for the last 10 years, which are distributed to schools in School District 5, School District 6 and a few independent schools in Cranbrook, Creston, Kimberley and Fernie. Overall, there were 3,358 survey responses from students in Grades 7-12, representing 71 per cent of student population in the East Kootenay.

“With the major drugs that kids are using, which would be alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, that there’s a pretty steady decline in use in the past 10 years,” said Nicholson.

“…The important thing is that alcohol and marijuana—if kids are going to get involved, those are the ones they start with, they’re not likely to move on to anything else unless they’ve started with those two.

“So if we have fewer kids starting with those two, it means that fewer kids are moving on to the other stuff.”

Unsurprisingly, alcohol was among the first addictive substances used at the average age of 13 years old—a six-month increase in age from when the survey was first distributed in 2005. Average age of first-time marijuana use was 13.9 years old, while tobacco was 13.6 years old.

However, digging into those numbers, the frequency of use paints a more detailed picture.

48.7 per cent of students who consume alcohol only do it less than once a month, with 34.6 per cent consume one to three days a month. For marijuana, 42.3 per cent use the drug less than once a month, while 21.5 per cent use it one to three days a month.

Nicholson noted that 25.1 per cent of respondents use marijuana three to seven days a week.

“It’s the only drug that you see a big chunk of kids who are using regularly, and that’s a big worry for us, because in adolescence, the research would say regular marijuana use increases a bunch of risks such as depression, anxieties, schizophrenia, poor school performance—all these things go up with the heavier use.”

The survey also found that 30.6 respondents had tried e-cigarettes, which has become more popular as an alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes.

“That’s just kind of exploded on the scene and there’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s happening with that and what the risks are, so we wanted to get some baseline data,” said Nicholson.

In terms of prescription drug abuse, using family prescriptions was the easiest way to get access to downers, stimulants and opioids.

“That was a bit of a surprise, I thought I’d see more stuff coming off the streets, but that’s really not the place the kids are getting stuff from, it’s from home,” Nicholson said.

For binge-drinking, the concern isn’t necessarily addiction, but the consequences that can result from a heavy amount of alcohol consumption in a limited timeframe.

Only 18.5 per cent of respondents said they have never done any binge-drinking, a decrease from 30.1 per cent in 2005. However, 41.9 per cent reported binge-drinking less than once a month, as opposed to 31 per cent in 2005. The trend is also decreasing for weekly binge-drinking, which is a good thing, added Nicholson.

“We’d like to see that overall number moving down, but still, it’s a very entrenched part of the culture and it seems to be a tough one to shift,” Nicholson said.

Driving while impaired from alcohol and marijuana use has trended downward, but for the first time, marijuana surpassed alcohol as reasons why students would be impaired behind the wheel.

“That’s going to be a big issue is how do you monitor for marijuana impaired driving, because you can’t just simply do a breathalyzer test, so there needs to be more education about this, that it’s still risky, dangerous driving,” Nicholson said.

Looking at screen time, either from texting, using social media or video gaming was a new component of the survey this year, according to Nicholson, which in itself, can be part of addictive behaviours.

“We had a lot of kids saying they had some kind of negative feedback from their use, so 60 per cent of boys were trying to cut down on their gaming, 40 per cent trying to cut down on gaming, 65 per cent of girls trying to cut down on use of social media. 60 per cent of boys saying their gaming is getting in the way of other priorities.”