Colorado youth are drinking less alcohol, and aren't using marijuana any more than they used to before recreational weed was legalized, according to a new survey on substance use by Rise Above Colorado
Good news? Sure. But the world of youth substance use is quite a bit more complicated, as researchers found when they analyzed more than 600 survey responses from kids ages 12 to 17.
You can read the full study below, or check out these highlights.
1. Most 12- to 17-year-olds who vape say they don't vape nicotine.
While Rise Above Colorado
, a drug abuse prevention organization, has conducted similar surveys in the past, this was the first year it asked youth about their tobacco use. Colorado has a higher rate of teen vaping than any other state, according to a 2018 report
by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Youth who responded to Rise Above Colorado's survey reported lower rates of tobacco use than the CDC report showed, but that could be due to the slightly younger age demographic. Seven percent said they used a vape pen or e-cigarette, while 2 percent smoked cigarettes (the CDC report showed that 26.2 percent of Colorado high schoolers vaped, while 7 percent smoked cigarettes).
But interestingly, the survey results suggest that some youth don't understand vape pens contain nicotine. Most (78 percent) said they vaped with nicotine-free flavoring, but almost all vape products sold in convenience stores contain nicotine, and Juul — which has the largest share of the e-cigarette market — does not sell any nicotine-free products.
Youth who smoked cigarettes or vaped were 10 times as likely to misuse prescription drugs, five times as likely to use marijuana and more than twice as likely to drink alcohol.
2. While marijuana use has remained steady and alcohol use has decreased, attitudes about these substances are changing.
In 2018, 37 percent of youth surveyed by Rise Above Colorado said they had drunk alcohol. That's a statistically significant decrease from 2016 levels (46 percent), bringing alcohol use to about the same level as in 2013, when 33 percent of youth responded affirmatively.
Marijuana use has remained stable since 2013. This year, 17 percent of young people said they'd tried it, compared with 15 percent in 2016 and 16 percent in 2013 — before the passage of Amendment 64.
However, Rise Above Colorado warns that changing perceptions about weed and alcohol could make some youth more vulnerable. This year, only about half of 12- to 17-year-olds said drinking once or twice posed a "moderate" risk or "great" risk, compared with 66 percent in 2016. For marijuana, the decrease in risk perception was even greater: 61 percent of youth felt trying weed once or twice was risky, a drop from 73 percent two years earlier. And while 86 percent of youth said they thought using marijuana regularly was risky in 2016, just 79 percent said that last year.
"A lower perception of risk is of concern because it can make youth more likely to use substances while a higher perception of risk can deter future use," reads a statement from Rise Above Colorado about the survey.
3. Youth are more likely to think misusing prescription drugs is dangerous.
Just 4 percent of youth used prescription painkillers and/or stimulants to get high in 2018. While that's an increase from 2 percent in 2013, by one measure — risk perception — the outlook looks promising. Ten percent more young people (88 percent versus 78 percent in 2016) said they thought limited misuse of prescription drugs posed a "great" or "moderate" risk. Almost all youth (94 percent) thought regular use was risky, compared with 89 percent two years earlier.
Risk perception may be linked to family discussions about stimulants and painkillers. Slightly more than half of teens said they'd talked with their parents about the drugs, up from 36 percent in 2016.
4. Substance use continues to correlate with attitudes about school, mental health and safety.
Survey gatherers also asked youth to rate their levels of agreement with a set of "risk factor" statements — such as "I am confident that if I experimented with drugs, I could stop whenever I wanted" — and "protective factor" statements, like "Getting good grades is important to me."
For alcohol, the risk factor that had the strongest correlation with alcohol use was "My parents would be fine with me drinking beer once in a while." For weed and other drugs, it was "Experimenting with drugs is just part of being a teenager — it's not that big a deal."
For alcohol and marijuana, the protective factor "The schoolwork I am assigned is often meaningful and important to me" was linked most strongly to less substance use. Worryingly, statistically fewer youth (69 percent, compared with 75 percent in 2016) responded affirmatively to this statement.
When asked how many mentally difficult days they'd experienced in the past month (including "anxiety, stress, depression and problems with emotions") youth responded about the same as they did in 2016, with about 22 percent saying they had one or two hard days, 19 percent with three to five hard days, and 25 percent with six or more. Those in the latter category were more likely to have tried marijuana, alcohol and prescription painkillers.
Many students also overestimated classmates' substance use, which Rise Above Colorado warns can be dangerous.
"The overestimation of prevalence among peers can lead to increased use, while closing the gap between perceived and reported use has been proven to decrease substance use over time," its statement reads.
Read the full study
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