Alcohol use in teens shows slight decline Commission reports lowest rate since '84

October 25, 1991|By Sandra Crockett

Alcohol is still the drug of choice among Maryland high school seniors although fewer were drinking than last year, according to a survey released yesterday.

A little more than half the youngsters polled in the survey of 14,000 students from all Maryland public school districts reported drinking alcohol in the previous month.

"Alcohol remains the major drug of abuse," said the survey conducted in December by the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission, the Maryland State Department of Education and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration.

The authors of the survey are concerned about the level of binge drinking among Maryland seniors. One out of three seniors who used alcohol had five or more drinks on one occasion.

But the rate of use of alcohol by Maryland high school seniors, 52.8 percent, is less than the national average of 57.1 percent.

And alcohol use among Maryland students is at the lowest rate since 1984, the survey found.

"We are fortunate," said Melody McCoy, spokeswoman for the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission. "We are beginning to see minimal decreases but use is still high."

In the 1988-1989 survey, 60.2 percent of Maryland high school seniors reported using alcohol in the past 30 days, and 66.0 percent reported alcohol use in the 1984 poll.

Marijuana use among Maryland students has dropped even more significantly, following a trend seen in other surveys around the country. In 1990, 14 percent of Maryland students reported ++ using marijuana, down from 30 percent in 1984.

Only 1 percent of the seniors reported using crack cocaine in the 1990 survey, and fewer than 2 percent reported using any form of cocaine.

While they were pleased at the decline in alcohol and marijuana use, survey officials expressed concern about a significant increase in the use of inhalants, such as paint thinner and glue.

In 1990, 4.8 percent of the seniors reported using inhalants compared with 2.7 percent in 1988-1989. Inhalants are more popular among Maryland students than among those in other states, the commission found. That's also the case with PCP, although fewer Maryland students reported using the drug in the 1990 survey, 2.5 percent, than in the 1988-1989 poll.

Except for the use of inhalants, which peaked at the eighth grade, the use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs increases with age. The survey said a reason for the "unusual pattern" may be ready access to inhalants in homes.

Survey administrators warned that although the use of drugs other than tobacco and alcohol has declined since 1984 among high school students, use may be increasing among younger students.

More students in sixth grade reported using drugs in 1990 than in 1988-1989, and drug use among eighth-graders rose slightly in the latest survey.

However, the survey administrators were encouraged by the overall decline of drug use. Ms. McCoy said increased drug education is a major reason drug abuse is dropping. This is the first year that every school in Maryland has a drug prevention program in kindergarten through 12th grade, she said.

Deborah Somerville, a program specialist for the Maryland State Department of Education, cited myriad programs and policies in Maryland schools to fight drug and alcohol abuse. Among them is the policy that students found to be abusing drugs or alcohol must be offered counseling as well as discipline.

Researchers at the University of Maryland at College Park also worked on the report.

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