Statistics released Wednesday from the 21st Annual Survey of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Use reveal that alcohol use by the state’s youth is on the decline, but use of marijuana and smokeless tobacco is on the rise.
The study, conducted by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at IU-Bloomington, found that the reported use of marijuana for seventh grade, as well as grades nine through 12, has increased.
“I think what we have focused in on this year and last year is an increase in marijuana use,” said Courtney Stewart, IPRC research associate and coordinator of research and translation. “The good news is, we’re seeing an overall decrease in alcohol use.”
Stewart, who has worked for the resource center since 2009, said statewide programs focused on underage drinking have helped facilitate this decline.
In 1993, the rate of lifetime alcohol use was 85 percent for 12th-graders. That rate is now down to 65.4 percent.
Stewart said lifetime rates represent the percentage of respondents who report using any particular drug at least once in their lifetime.
“I think the prevention programs in Indiana that are in place, they have been successful as far as alcohol use,” she said.
Where the state could improve, Stewart said, is in the prevention of drug use in young people.
“I think they should be focusing on both of those things,” Stewart said. “Indiana and other states need to be targeting marijuana and prescription drug use. It’s not the norm for people to be smoking and drinking every day.”
Stewart said the upward trend in marijuana use by teens could be explained by media attention paid to legalizing the drug for medicinal purposes.
“It’s the perception of harm and risk,” Stewart said. “With medical marijuana, a lot of youth might think, ‘Hey, its OK, doctors are prescribing it. It’s OK to use it.’”
The IPRC, which is part of IU’s School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, surveyed 168,801 students in both public and private schools in Indiana.
Stewart said the survey, conducted since 1993, collects data specific to Indiana as opposed to national surveys. More specific information from the Indiana survey is available to educators by request.
Along with marijuana, use of smokeless tobacco — commonly known as dip — has also been on the rise since 2007.
“This is a concern, because although rates of cigarette use among high school students continue to decline, smokeless tobacco use still exposes youth to the harmful carcinogenic elements of tobacco,” IPRC Director Ruth Gassman said in a press release.
— Margaret Ely
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