Pennsylvania substance abuse rates falling for most students, but are rising for high school seniors

HARRISBURG, (PRNewswire)- Pennsylvania students in 6th, 8th and 10th grades are drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and using drugs far less frequently than they did in years past, but 12th grade students are binge drinking and driving under the influence at higher rates, according to the 2005 Pennsylvania Youth Survey by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD).

“This survey is a wakeup call to all Pennsylvanians that we need to do a better job of stressing the dangers of binge drinking and driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs to high school seniors,” said PCCD’s Chairman Walter M. Phillips, Jr.

The Youth Survey, conducted every two years, is a study that measures the prevalence of substance abuse and violence among 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th grade students statewide. The survey is voluntary and anonymous, and asks students approximately 120 questions regarding their behaviors and attitudes toward substance abuse.

According to the survey, prevention efforts seem to be working well with younger students, who reported that they are less likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol than students in years past. With the exception of
10th graders willing to try inhalants, students in the 6th, 8th and 10th grades are less likely to try alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens or inhalants than their peers from previous state surveys — indicating a
possible change in perception toward illegal substances. On the other hand, high school seniors drink, smoke and use more drugs than they did in years past and more than their peers nationwide.

“The number of high school seniors who admit to binge drinking should frighten every parent,” Phillips said. “More than one-third of all seniors surveyed admitted to binge drinking — consuming five or more drinks in a
row — in the past two weeks.”

To ensure the validity of the survey, more than 14,300 students from urban, suburban and rural schools were randomly selected to participate in the 2005 survey. Pennsylvania’s outcomes are then measured against national outcomes in the “Monitoring the Future” study, which is conducted by the University of Michigan.

Survey results provide school administrators, state agency directors, legislators, substance abuse practitioners and others with critical information concerning the changes in patterns of the use and abuse of these harmful substances and behaviors.

The survey also assesses risk factors — such as friends’ use of drugs, rebelliousness and lack of commitment to school — that are predictors of these behavioral problems as well as protective factors — such as family
attachment and rewards for pro-social involvement — that help guard against them. This information allows community leaders to direct prevention resources to areas where they are likely to have the greatest

Among the key findings of the 2005 Pennsylvania Youth Survey:

* Alcohol is the drug used most often by students in all grade levels. Overall, 58 percent of all students surveyed admitted to drinking alcohol at some point in their lives;

* As with alcohol use, binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks in a row) tends to become more pervasive as students grow older. One percent of 6th graders, 6.7 percent of 8th graders, 19.6 percent of
10th graders and 33.7 percent of 12th graders admitted to binge drinking;

* Almost 24 percent of 12th graders admit to driving after drinking, which is an increase from previous years. Twenty-three percent of the students admit to driving after smoking marijuana;

* More than 5 percent of high school seniors used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes;

* Overall, 36 percent of students have gambled for money. Gambling was measured for the first time in 2005;

* Approximately 34 percent of students said they were depressed or sad most days, and 24 percent said they sometimes feel “life is not worth it.” Forty-one percent of those with high symptoms of depression reported alcohol use in the preceding month, compared to 19 percent for those with low symptoms of depression; and

* Seniors who reported earning mostly D’s and F’s were more likely to binge drink (55 percent) than students who earned A’s and B’s (26 percent).

To view the full 130-page report, visit PCCD’s website

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