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A wake-up call on drugs, drinking, smoking, teens


NOT ALL IS well among a large number of Carroll County teen-agers.

Too many are binge drinkers, inhalant users, marijuana and cigarette smokers.

So says the latest Maryland Adolescent Survey. The results show that a great many county teens are engaging in behavior that threatens their lives, damages their long-term health and impedes their scholastic performance.

This survey -- chock full of tables, statistics and other data -- should be must reading for anyone with more than a passing concern about the county's youth.

More than half of Carroll seniors surveyed said they engaged in binge drinking -- defined in the survey as having five or more drinks in one sitting -- during the past year. Forty percent of the 10th graders admitted to drinking themselves into a stupor, as did 17 percent of the eighth graders, who are generally about 13 years old.

This survey, taken every two years, asks a sample of county students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades a variety of questions about alcohol and drug use. About 1,000 Carroll students participated in the survey, which was taken last December.

The questionnaire also revealed that county teens use inhalants at an alarming rate. About 22 percent of 12th graders -- more than twice the state average of 9 percent -- admit they have sniffed glue, paint thinners, aerosols or other chemicals in the past year to get high.

Despite all the anti-smoking education programs and public service messages, nearly 46 percent of Carroll's seniors said they had puffed on a cigarette within 30 days of filling out the questionnaire.

Growing worse

Those statistics are troubling enough, but the survey shows that drug and alcohol abuse among the older students is worsening.

Two years ago, for example, 2.7 percent of 12th graders admitted using LSD. The number of seniors who said they use that hallucinogen now is 13.4 percent, a sixfold increase. Marijuana use is up 50 percent. Amphetamine consumption has doubled.

If there is any good news in the survey, it can be found among the sixth-graders. Their use of cigarettes and consumption of alcohol is less than the same age group two years ago.

With the exception of the younger children surveyed, Carroll teens apparently use drugs, smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol at levels greater than the state average.

What is probably the most troubling aspect of the data is the fact that Carroll's teens regularly use substances that they are not legally entitled to possess.

It's not just drugs. Only adults are supposed to use alcohol and tobacco. Yet this survey indicates that county teens have easy access to both.

One could argue that teens are merely mimicking adult behavior. Drinking and smoking are considered socially and culturally acceptable activities.

The problem, at least according to the state survey, is not only that Carroll's teens are experimenting with adult vices.

They are using these substances in very destructive manners.

Take alcohol. Four out of every 10 seniors have had more than five drinks within 30 days of the survey. That level of drinking produces severe intoxication. Anyone downing that many drinks a sitting runs the risk of alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal.

Even more troubling is the fact that 12.5 percent of Carroll's teens admit to driving after having between one and four drinks and 23 percent have ridden in a car driven by a fellow teen who is intoxicated.

These teens aren't oblivious to the danger. Nearly 100 percent of them said drinking and driving is dangerous.

In other words, they know their behavior could injure or even kill, but they do it anyway -- and they do it frequently.

Drugs trouble

Carroll's teens also have trouble with substances that are illegal for adults as well as teen-agers such as marijuana, amphetamines and LSD. They also seem to have easy access to these drugs.

The results of this survey send a clear message: Parents and school officials should focus their attention on discouraging the most blatantly self-destructive behaviors -- binge drinking, driving while intoxicated and using drugs and inhalants.

Children listen to adults. They don't always follow adult recommendations, but warning teens about the real dangers of drugs and alcohol should be a regular part of family and school discussions.

The survey indicated that children who have good communications with their parents are less likely to be using drugs or drinking. Those who use drugs say they get their cues from friends rather than their parents.

Being aware of the problem is the first step.

The next, and most difficult, step is figuring out a way to cut down on this dangerous and destructive behavior.

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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