2021 Community Assessment
WHEN:DFCC conducted a survey of Webster adults and a series of confidential focus groups with Webster students to better understand the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of these groups with respect to the use/abuse of alcohol, tobacco, vaping products, and prescription drugs by youth under the age of 21. There were 276 adult responses to the survey and the Youth Focus Groups included over 250 youth. The adult survey was more quantitative, while the youth responses were mostly anecdotal and focused on alcohol and vaping use. The findings summarized below will be used to inform the WHEN:DFCC effort to educate the community/students and promote healthy life choices by youth.
While the responses were more varied, students reported a substantial percentage above 30%, and up to 75%, for alcohol and vaping product use by youth.
How common is substance use/abuse among youth under the age of 21?
83% believe that alcohol and e-cig/vaping product use is widespread or fairly common, and 76% believe marijuana use is widespread or fairly common among youth. 57% believe tobacco use and 47% believe that non-prescribed drug use is fairly common or widespread. 75% of the respondents indicated that they know someone affected by substance use disorder or misuse, with 66% knowing affected youth under the age of 21.
Conclusion: Substance use/misuse by youth under the age of 21 is a significant issue for the Webster community.
How easy is it for youth under 21 to access these substances in Webster?
85% of adults believe it is very easy or somewhat easy for youth under 21 to obtain vaping products. Similarly, 78% believe that access to alcohol and tobacco is very/somewhat easy, while 71% believe this for marijuana and 53% believe this for prescription drugs.
According to most students, access to alcohol and vaping products is very easy, while some suggested that access to marijuana is also easy.
Conclusion: Access to alcohol, vaping products and marijuana is perceived to be very easy for youth under the age of 21.
Older siblings/friends and sneaking alcohol from home are primary sources of alcohol, while older siblings/friends and social media contacts are primary sources for vaping products. Home, parties, and secluded outdoor areas are common places to use alcohol, with school bathrooms/locker rooms also primary places for vaping.
Sources and Locations
Where do youth under 21 obtain/use these substances?
72% cited home/family as the primary source with about 70% citing youth parties or friends as the source for alcohol. Similarly, the sources for vaping products cited were 73% friends, 33% youth parties, 31% via internet purchase, 27% retail purchase, 23% via a stranger/dealer and 15% from home or family. And for marijuana, the sources cited were 83% from a friend, 61% at a youth party, 47% from home/family and 4% via internet purchase. Youth parties were seen as the most likely place for youth to use these substances.
Conclusion: Family/relatives, older friends and youth parties are the most common sources of alcohol for youth under the age of 21, with older friends/siblings as the primary source for vaping products, often obtained through social media by those individuals.
What factors contribute to underage substance use/abuse?
87% of adults think peer pressure is the major contributor, while 72% attribute this to parental tolerance/indifference or poor adult role modeling (51%). There was also a strong feeling (68%) that there is a greater societal acceptance of alcohol use vs other substances. Many parents responded that they drank alcohol in their youth and it wasn’t a problem for them or a strong desire to expose their own underage youth to alcohol before going off to college.
Youth agreed that pressure to “fit in” is a major factor (“it’s cool”); though some cited it as a reason to abstain. The prevailing attitude is that if others wish to do it, that’s OK, but not for me. Student stress was also mentioned as a reason for use. Vape flavors were also cited.
Conclusion: A desire to “fit in” and student stress are significant contributors to youth substance use/abuse, while parental tolerance/indifference to alcohol use also plays a role.
As cited above, the general attitude of students is that if some wish to do it, that’s OK, but not for me. As a result, youth tend to associate with like-minded friends. Some also mentioned the permissive attitude of their own or friends’ parents as a reason to consume alcohol.
How do adults and youth feel about underage substance use/abuse?
Over 90% of adult respondents believe that it is wrong or very wrong for underage youth to use vaping products, tobacco, or non-prescribed prescription drugs. Similarly, about 80% view the use of marijuana or alcohol as wrong or very wrong. However, this response contrasts rather sharply with the responses above indicating a more permissive attitude toward alcohol use.
Conclusion: While a large majority of adults feel it is wrong for underage youth to use these substances, youth perceive that some parents have a greater tolerance/acceptance for alcohol use. Students shared that they tend to make a personal choice to either use or abstain from substance use/abuse and associate with like-minded individuals without condemning others’ choices.
What consequences do adults/youth see resulting from underage substance use/abuse?
Over 90% of adults feel that youth under 21 risk harming themselves from using non-prescribed prescription drugs, alcohol and tobacco smoking, while over 75% see moderate to great risk for vaping or marijuana use. A bit over 80% of adults are concerned about potential motor vehicle accidents (drunk driving) and overdosing on alcohol. Approximately 61% cited property damage. And, about 50% mentioned ER admissions, suicide and sexual assault as concerns.
Students noted: near/long term health impacts, suspension from school, loss of privileges (grounding, etc.), trust or reputation loss, exclusion from sports, trouble with the law, and getting hurt or hurting someone else. However, some said it would depend on the specific circumstances and/or parental degree of strictness.
Conclusion: Physical or other harm from underage youth substance use/abuse is a concern for both adults and youth. In addition, students view the loss of privileges, reputation loss, being suspended or expelled from school, being kicked off a sports team or getting into trouble with the law as additional deterrents to underage substance use/abuse.
Students see social media and school classrooms as the preferred means for receiving helpful information regarding substance use/abuse, with a particular emphasis on open dialogue, like the youth forum experience, as very desirable.
What information would you want to assist youth in making healthy life choices?
Approximately 60% of adults would like to know what to say if they find out their child or a child’s friend is using substances illegally, while about 50% would like tips on how to tell if their child is using illicit substances or how to start a conversation on this topic. Factual information on the potential health consequences as well as the reasons why youth choose to use tobacco, alcohol, vaping, drugs, etc. was cited by a little over 40% of adults. Over 50% of adults see local media (TV, newspapers), school district communications and social media as the primary vehicles for providing them with information.
Conclusion: A desire for honest, fact-based information, along with open dialogue is seen as an effective means to communicate with both adults and students regarding the impact of underage substance use/abuse. Both groups also cited the important role of social media in addressing these issues.