February 2, 2021 - Substance use among Colorado youth remained steady in the last two years, although rising risk factors – particularly related to marijuana and alcohol -- are cause for concern and attention, according to research released today, February 2, 2021.
The results show a continuing disconnect between perception and reality. Most youth overestimate the percent of their peers using substances. In reality, the vast majority of youth report they are not using any substances.
The research, conducted in early 2020, builds on similar statewide studies conducted on behalf of the nonprofit Rise Above Colorado since 2009 and most recently in 2018. Survey responses from a representative sampling via phone, online and social media of more than 650 youth from around the state were gathered and analyzed by HealthCare Research.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Colorado youth faced many challenges related to substance use and mental health,” said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, who chairs the Colorado Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force. “Youth now report increased acceptance of using substances as a means to cope with stress, and one in three Colorado youth are struggling with their mental health. The new research demonstrates that we all—parents, educators, civic leaders and youth themselves—must work to increase prevention and education and to develop coping skills and honest conversations that protect our youth.”
“The survey data shows the importance of fostering a sense of belonging, supporting connections with trusted adults, and correcting the overestimation of youth substance use. These proven strategies help youth make healthy decisions and advocate for themselves and their peers,” said Kent MacLennan, executive director of Rise Above Colorado. “We also recognize that these needed supports aren’t equally available. Youth from marginalized groups, such as communities of color and/or the LGBTQ+ community, experience many resulting health inequities which must be addressed.”
Rise Above Colorado (www.riseaboveco.org), which empowers teens statewide to live free of drug misuse and addiction, commissioned the survey with support from grants through the Colorado Department of Human Services’ Office of Behavioral Health and the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention.
Key findings include:
The Perceived Risk of Alcohol and Marijuana Use Hits Record Lows
A lower perception of risk is of concern because research shows it can increase the likelihood that youth will use substances; a higher perception of risk can deter use.
Connectedness is a Key Factor in Reducing Substance Use
The data indicates that a sense of belonging is an important predictor of youth attitudes and behaviors related to substances.
The rates at which teens are engaged in conversations about substance use within their families or in school and community settings have been declining, reaching record lows. This is concerning because research shows that conversations between trusted adults and youth are effective at preventing substance use.
Teens Continue to Overestimate How Many of Their Peers Use Substances
No matter the substance, the majority of Colorado teens overestimate the percentage of their peers who are using and the gap of misperception grows as youth transition from middle school to high school.
The 2020 data show a correlation between teens’ overestimation of peer substance use and their perceived risk and use of these substances. The science of social norming has found that youth who understand that most of their peers are not using substances feel more empowered to not use substances themselves.
This highlights the need for initiatives that show that the vast majority of youth are not using substances while promoting positive and healthy norms and opportunities to support teen well-being. This is the goal of Rise Above Colorado’s Fill Your World With Good statewide youth messaging campaign.
Results Offer Reason for Hope and Concern about Vaping
After alcohol consumption, vaping continues to be the second-most common method for using substances among Colorado youth.
Other Key Indicators
The full Rise Above Colorado Youth Survey is available here. Other resources for parents and caregivers can be found here.
# # #About Rise Above Colorado
Rise Above Colorado is a drug misuse prevention organization that measurably impacts youth perceptions and attitudes about the risks of substance misuse to help youth make empowered, healthy choices. Rise Above Colorado collaborates with teens, educators, community leaders and partners to empower youth to realize their full potential by leading a life free of substance misuse and addiction.
Research shows that 90 percent of addictions start with use in the teenage years. Rise Above Colorado urges increased youth education including science-based information about the developing brain, alternative opportunities to substance use, and the associated risks of using substances during adolescence, as well as skills to cope with stress and resist peer pressure. Youth can find information on these topics at www.IRiseAboveCO.org and the organization also offers resources for educators on its website.Media Contacts:
Rise Above Colorado