Our View: Reducing teen substance abuse

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We recently applauded police and the City Council for their increased efforts to curb the sale of alcohol to minors. Greater awareness of the problem, stiffer enforcement and tougher penalties have combined to help decrease teenagers' access to alcohol.

But it's naÃive to believe that getting tougher on businesses selling alcohol to minors is anything more than a tiny piece of the solution to the larger problem of teen substance abuse.

The results of the biennial survey of Steamboat Springs High School students show the depth of the problem. Conducted last October by the Search Institute, the survey asked 515 students 158 questions.

Some of the report's findings:

Fifty-four percent of students reported using alcohol in the past 30 days. Forty percent reported getting drunk at least once in the previous two weeks.

Twenty-three percent reported either driving while drunk or riding with a drunken driver at least once in the past 12 months.

Forty-nine percent said they had smoked marijuana in the past 12 months. Another 17 percent said they had used cocaine, LSD, PCP, heroin or methamphetamines.

Thirty-five percent reported having engaged in three or more violent acts in the past 12 months.

Obviously, substance abuse problems are not unique to Steamboat Springs. National statistics are similar. But that isn't justification for not doing everything we can to reduce the numbers.

The Search Institute survey also measured the presence of 40 positive assets among high schoolers. The survey showed that students with fewer than 10 positive assets were more than twice as likely to use drugs and alcohol as students with more than 20 assets.

Among the external assets the survey identified are family support, family communication, parent involvement in schooling, positive peers, adult role models, youth programs such as school sports and clubs and creative activities such as music and art.

Among the internal assets the survey identified are self-esteem, caring, responsibility, honesty, motivation and integrity. Being engaged in school and doing homework regularly also are internal assets.

Put simply, teens who have healthy families, are involved in school and participate in school sports or clubs are at significantly less risk for substance abuse than those who aren't.

Perhaps the most telling statistic in the survey is that, on average, Steamboat students had 17 positive assets, below the national average of 19.

So what can be done? Foremost, we can take active steps to build positive assets in our teens.

As parents, we have to not only provide our teens with love and support, but also send them the message that alcohol and drug use will not be tolerated. We have to set high expectations and establish boundaries.

As a school district, we have to continue to broaden opportunities while establishing higher standards for academic performance and participation in athletic and extracurricular activities.

And as a community, we have to ensure that we provide safe alternative activities for teens, support law enforcement efforts to curb substance abuse, serve as role models for teens and hold accountable adults who choose to provide alcohol and/or drugs to teens.

What teens often fail to grasp in choosing to use alcohol and/or drugs are the associated risks. The risk of becoming a victim of violence. The risk of becoming pregnant. The risk of being sexually assaulted. The risk of being seriously injured or killed in a car accident. The risk of killing someone else in a car accident.

We have a comunity obligation to try to reduce those risks.

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