Survey: Teen alcohol, tobacco use up

Herald Staff Writer

A survey of alcohol and drug use among Indiana youths released this month found more teens are smoking marijuana. But in Dubois County, smokeless tobacco and alcohol appear to be bigger issues.

The survey, conducted annually by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University in Bloomington, reported 19.2 percent of high school seniors used marijuana monthly last year, up from 16.2 percent in 2008.

But for Dubois County, marijuana use remained steady among seniors, according to statistics provided by the Dubois County Substance Abuse Council. Though last school year’s numbers are not yet available, monthly marijuana use stood at 11 percent in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years.

“The data is usually pretty consistent for Dubois County,” abuse council coordinator Deb Capps said. “But we’ve been showing an upward trend in smokeless tobacco and alcohol use for several years.”

In 2007-08, high school freshmen and sophomores reported chewing smokeless tobacco monthly at a rate of 4.3 and 7.9 percent, respectively. The following year, those rates increased to 7.2 percent for freshmen and 8.7 percent for sophomores.

“Smokeless tobacco might be on the rise because it’s a little bit easier to conceal than cigarette smoke,” Capps said. “That’s my guess.”

Advertising also may be having an impact on Dubois County teens.

“It seems like there is more advertising for smokeless tobacco products, so that might be a factor too,” Capps said.

Alcohol use by minors has been a problem in the area for years, she said.

“In ’08-09, just over 42 percent of our seniors reported that they used alcohol on a monthly basis,” Capps said. “That is concerning.”

The most notable rise in monthly use of alcohol from 2007 to 2009 was reported by high school freshmen. The numbers rose about 6 percent, from 21.9 to 27.8, in the two-year time frame.

Christine Vinson, director of Tri-Cap’s Teen Wellness Center, said teens’ choices to use alcohol or tobacco impacts their lives for many years.

“If they’re starting to drink and use (tobacco) this young, it sets a pattern for adulthood,” she said. “The likelihood they will keep using it is much higher.”

Alcohol is the No. 1 problem Vinson sees in schools, followed by tobacco at No. 2, though she said more students admit to smoking cigarettes than chewing tobacco.

“We try to do as much education and prevention as we can,” she said. “We try to focus on giving them the information about how dangerous alcohol and tobacco use is. We want them to understand there are more positive coping mechanisms.”

Using the substances, especially alcohol, has a substantial impact on more than just the teens’ performance in school.

“It affects everything,” Vinson said, adding that a chain reaction is started that extends to relationships and physical and mental health.

Capps said a lack of money to use to discourage youths from using alcohol and tobacco could be part of the problem.

“There isn’t a lot out there because grant funding for schools has decreased,” she said. “It’s become difficult for them to run programming aimed at this issue. There are some teachers trying to take it on, but with all of the requirements schools have, it’s hard to find the time to do it.”

Without enough funding for prevention education programs, the figures could keep rising.

“If we don’t have the money to run programs, then we should anticipate these numbers continuing to climb,” Capps said. She added that while the substance abuse council does provide local grants, it’s often not enough.

Contact Alexandra Sondeen at

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