It’s not all doom and gloom. Fewer Knoxville teens are experimenting with alcohol and drugs than in years past, according to a recently released survey.
The Knox County Youth Risk Behavior Survey is given every two years in high schools across the county. The survey asks students about their participation in a host of risky behaviors, from dating violence, unsafe sex, unhealthy eating, physical inactivity and substance abuse.
The 2013 survey found the most commonly abused drugs are alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and prescription drugs.
Nearly 30 percent of teens are current alcohol drinkers, down from 36 percent in 2009. However, about 18 percent reported binge drinking, meaning they consumed five or more drinks in one sitting. Of binge drinkers, a whopping 21 percent consumed eight or more drinks within two hours.
Not only are some teens drinking heavily, many began at an early age. Of current teen drinkers, 27 percent took their first drink before age 13. Studies show teens that drink before age 15 are four to six times more likely to develop alcohol problems later in life.
“The misperception is that kids are buying beer at gas stations and grocery stores. In reality, most alcohol is obtained through a parent, older sibling or friend, either by stealing or having it purchased for them,” Karen Pershing, MDC executive director, said.
“We have to do a better job educating adults about the dangers of and punishments for providing alcohol to minors.”
There was also headway made in fighting tobacco. Regular cigarette use fell from 10 percent in 2005 to 6.5 percent in 2013. A similar reduction was seen when taking into account other tobacco products like cigars and chewing tobacco. The past 30 day use of these products has dropped 20 percent since 2005, from about 32 percent to 25 percent.
Prescription drug abuse also has decreased slightly. Nearly 16 percent of teens say they have misused a prescription at least once in their lifetime, a 23 percent decrease since 2011.
“In a time when pill abuse is increasing across the country, this is very, very positive news,” Pershing said.
While most of the drugs saw a decrease, the use of MDMA, or Ecstasy, has risen since 2007, thanks to its popularity in mainstream music. Lifetime and current use of marijuana saw an uptick as well, likely due to the shifting perception of harm when some states legalized the drug.
“Overall, the numbers are down, which is exactly what we want to see. But we can’t get complacent. We want these numbers to come down even more,” Pershing said. “Having no substance abuse at all may be a ‘pie in the sky’ idea, but it gives us a goal to work towards.”
To see the full report, visit the Local Stats page.