2006-02-02 / News

Boredom, affluence, factors in teen substance abuse

Community education through task force seen as key to prevention
By Donna K. Drago

Despite appearing to be a happy, healthy, and affluent community, a new study released last week by the Jamestown Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force suggests that those factors that give the town a positive appearance may be some of the same factors that are the underlying cause behind teen substance abuse.

Called a “needs assessment,” the study suggests that Jamestown has several risk factors that may contribute to the use of alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes by the island’s youth.

The study was mandated by the state’s Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals, with the data being compiled by Andrea vonHohenleiten, and analyzed by Donna Levesque.

“Middle income earners are living lives of intense stress” the study says, and many blue-collar families are experiencing stress from a skyrocketing housing market that is making them feel “edged out,” the report continues.

Still another island stressor, the study reports, is a growing number of single-parent homes, headed by women in most cases, that places the parent “in a position where she must work longer hours to support the family.”

The high level of bachelor’s or higher academic degrees among island residents can also be a contributing factor to substance abuse, and the study refers to two reports that gives some conflicting information.

One study reports “the children of highly-educated parents are at reduced risk of experimenting with drugs or alcohol,” but another study says that “stress, boredom and available spending money” are all influential factors in introducing kids to addictive substances.

On a positive note, the Jamestown survey says there are several “protective factors” that serve to enhance the well-being of residents and keep them from abusing substances.

Among those factors is the “wealth of volunteer services” to island organizations like team sports, Scouting, theater, and other groups.

Recreational offerings are also considered protective factors, and the study says that the recreational offerings are “diverse, well run, popular, and reasonably priced.”

Among the risk factors that predict teen substance abuse are teen boredom.

The report describes groups of teens “walking the streets around the town center, talking and laughing, and sometimes smoking cigarettes.” Parental attitudes about drinking contribute to teen abuse, the report says, noting that “if parents are frequent drinkers, the risk for children in the household to get an early introduction is increased.”

On the effect of the town’s police force on teens, the study says, “Indications are that the small-town atmosphere creates a lack of willingness to criticize drinkers or users.”

The report continues, “This discretionary approach extends to the police when they encounter youths that might be using alcohol. The report says that instead of bringing youths into the police station, they might instead “advise juveniles . . . to return home.”

The study’s summary suggests that the entire community needs to be involved in the solution to teen substance abuse and that the Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force is the “community conduit” to address the issue.

The task force needs to continue community education programs and “increase its membership” to sustain prevention activities, the study also suggests.

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