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Kids Drink, Use Drugs to Cope

Peer Pressure Actually Less of a Factor in Teen Drinking Than Parents Think

MINNEAPOLIS, Oct. 18, 1995 /PRNewswire/ -- Parents often believe that teenagers take most of their cues from their friends. But new statistics show that peer pressure isn't as important a factor in leading teens to drink alcohol as parents may believe. Instead, teens feel that alcohol helps them forget about their problems, according to a recent national survey released today by the Minnesota-based Hazelden Foundation.

According to the survey statistics, parents are much more likely to believe that peer pressure plays an important role in influencing teens to drink or use drugs. Survey results show that 87 percent of parents said teens drink or use drugs because "everybody else is doing it." Seventy-nine percent of parents also pointed to the fact that "other kids will think they're weird if they don't" as an important factor in why teens drink. On the other hand, 79 percent of teens pointed to "the feeling of being drunk or high" as their top reason for drinking or using drugs. Teens (66.7 percent) also said that drugs and alcohol "help them forget their problems."

"The adolescent years are difficult for kids to experience," says Cathy Seward, executive director of Hazelden's Center for Youth and Families (HCYF). "Parents shouldn't rule out the possibility that their children could be tempted to turn to alcohol and drugs to cope." HCYF is one of the nation's only adolescent and young adult centers specializing in alcoholism and chemical dependency treatment and education for youth ages 14-25. Last year, more than 550 young adults from throughout the United States benefited from HCYF programs and services.


According to HCYF professionals, alcohol abuse is a more serious problem among youth today, and teens appear to agree. Fifty percent of the teens said alcohol is the most serious problem among youth today. Parents were more evenly divided, with only 36.4 percent rating alcohol as the most serious and 38.5 percent rating drugs to be a more serious problem.

Twenty-four percent of parents rated both alcohol and drugs a serious problem in contrast to only six percent of teens.

"Parents today seem to be most concerned about the effect of hard drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine, on the lives of their kids," says Seward. "In reality, alcohol is still overwhelmingly the primary drug of choice among teens. Kids who start off experimenting with alcohol are often more likely to get hooked and turn to harder drugs to get the 'high' feelings that originally attracted them to drinking."


When asked to describe the kind of "ground rules" families had about drug and alcohol use, survey results show parents set more rigid guidelines for their kids when it comes to drug use. Both parents and teens agreed at a margin of two to one that drug use isn't tolerated in the family.

When it comes to outlining specific family rules about alcohol and drug consumption, parents are much more lenient toward alcohol -- allowing their teenagers to see them drinking alcohol and admitting their teens can drink alcohol in a variety of settings.

Specifically: 21.8 percent of the parents said alcohol consumption is all right for parents but not teens; 8.3 percent of parents allow their kids to drink alcohol at home; and 4.7 percent of parents said they allow their teens to drink alcohol at parties as long as he/she doesn't drive home.

According to survey results, none of these "ground rules" is allowed when it comes to drug use.


Even when parents say they have discussed alcohol and drug use with their teens, survey results show that such discussions may not have the effect that the parents hoped for. According to the survey statistics, nearly all of the parents (95.6 percent) said they have talked to their teenagers about alcohol use. Only 84 percent of the teens surveyed agreed.

While fewer parents -- 92.5 percent -- have discussed drug use with their teens, the discrepancy with teens is even higher -- with only 78.5 percent of the youth remembering a discussion about drug use.

"When talking with kids about alcohol and drug use, parents need to be extremely clear about the consequences and potential dangers that can affect their teens," says Seward. "It's best to sit down with your child and use real life examples to illustrate some of the harm that comes to teens who continue to experiment with drugs."


-- When asked how they would react if they found out that their teen was drinking or using drugs, twice as many parents (87 percent) said they would "sit down and talk it out" as compared to other options such as grounding their teenager (44 percent) or forbidding their teenager from "hanging around with the friends who got him/her started in the first place," (41 percent).

-- Despite the fact that almost 40 percent (38.1 percent) of teens surveyed admit they have friends or classmates who both drink alcohol and use drugs, approximately one third (30 percent) of parents said they are unsure about whether their teenager has friends or classmates who use alcohol. An almost equal number of parents -- an additional 28 percent -- said their teens have friends who both drink alcohol and use drugs.

-- Parents (36 percent) and teens (40 percent) agreed that teens at school plan activities that revolve around alcohol and drugs on a weekly basis. Yet 20 percent of the teens surveyed admit that teens plan activities that revolve around alcohol or drugs even more often -- on a daily basis.

-- When asked to rank behaviors that would make them think a friend had a drug or alcohol problem, teens listed the following: personality changes (80.4 percent); pressuring others to use (75.6 percent); giving up favorite activities (69.3 percent); lying about things (68.5 percent); receiving falling grades (65.6 percent) or avoiding friends (44.8 percent).

-- When asked what they felt would be the top results of ongoing drug use, teenagers pointed to getting hooked (89.3 percent); death (82.6 percent); and a car crash (81.1 percent) as primary concerns. Teens ranked unprotected sex (58 percent) as the least likely result of ongoing drug or alcohol use.


When asked hypothetically about their comfort level in talking with friends about drinking or drug use, more than three-fourths (77 percent) of the teens said they felt very or somewhat confident and comfortable discussing the topic. Yet in reality, less than half of the teens surveyed who know friends or classmates who used alcohol and/or drugs (44 percent) have ever talked with them about their drug or alcohol use and tried to offer help. Fifty-five percent of the teens surveyed said they had never broached the subject with their friends.

"Teenagers tend to listen to the opinions of their friends more than their parents," says Seward. "This makes it very important that friends take any opportunities to talk to each other about worries associated with drug and alcohol abuse."


To help parents and teens discuss the topic of alcohol and drug use, Hazelden's Responsibility of Friendship program has developed "A Guide For Teens," a free booklet designed to help teens assist a friend who has a problem with alcohol or other related drugs.

To get a copy of Hazelden's "A Guide For Teens," call Hazelden's toll-free helpline, 800-I-DO-CARE. The helpline was created by Hazelden in 1992 in response to a widespread need for information.


The telephone survey, conducted for the Minnesota-based Hazelden Center for Youth and Families and the Hazelden Foundation by Market Facts, Inc., polled a nationally representative sample of more than 300 parents and 270 teenagers to learn their opinions about drug and alcohol use and whether or not kids ever talk to friends about usage. (The margin of error for the sample is plus or minus 6 percentage points).

HCYF is a program of the Hazelden Foundation, an internationally recognized nonprofit organization providing low-cost, quality rehabilitation, education, prevention and professional services in chemical dependency and related addictive disorders.

CONTACT: Jeff Moravec of Hazelden Foundation, 612-213-4228, or Trish Scorpio of Mona Meyer McGrath & Gavin/Shandwick, 612-832-5000.

Date: 10/17/95


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