By Susan Lease
As we look back over the years at how much money, time and effort have been spent on alcohol and other drug prevention in Quay County, we can say that, statistically, we have seen some gains and some benefits to all of that hard work.
However, we can never become complacent, since we are still a long way from where we should be in the reduction of alcohol and other drug consumption in this county, particularly among our youth.
According to the New Mexico High School Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey (YRRS) of 2013, we have seen a downward trend in alcohol use in our high school youth. As one example, according to the YRRS of 2003, binge drinking among high school youth was self-reported at 35.4 percent. This means that, roughly, more than one out of every three high school youth were participating actively in binge drinking. However, in 2009, this number had declined to 25 percent. This was a significant decrease in binge drinking in that population. However, these statistics tell us that, in 2009, one out of every four high school students participated in binge drinking at some point in their high school years. Still, this is way too many youth abusing alcohol.
By 2013, the percentage had dropped even more to 18.9 percent. However, we can say that this percentage is, again, way too high for high school youth who participate in drinking activities – almost one in every five youth. This now begs the question: Why is there so much alcohol abuse among our youth? The answer for this is not as simple as quoting statistics.
For those of us involved in the spectrum of drug and alcohol abuse reduction activities, from prevention through treatment through law enforcement activities, we know the answer is complex; it includes, among other factors, familial norms around alcohol consumption, peer pressure among youth, societal/cultural risk factors, the lack of certain protective factors (also known as resiliency) in the target populations, and easy access to alcohol. Factors such as alcohol density (the number of alcohol distribution areas near schools and other places where youth congregate), as well as the number of places that sell alcohol within a community, especially those that are not consistent in their carding process, create opportunities for youth to obtainalcohol through some method, though this last one seems to be declining due to years of surveillance activities by local and state authorities.
Whatever the case, we do need to be more diligent in decreasing the accessibilityof alcohol to youth by reducing the number of access points that fail in keeping alcohol out of the hands of youth, whether that be in businesses or in the home. This responsibility does not only fall upon law enforcement, but also upon business proprietors and their staff and, most importantly, upon parents to help decrease access of alcohol and to teach behavior that will builds protective factors within the very youth who may be most inclined to drink.
Susan Lease is a prevention specialist with the Quay County ASAP program. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org