A recent study shows Indiana teens are drinking less alcohol than in the past, but a local public health official says further investigation is needed before being too encouraged by those statistics.
According to the results of youth risk behavior survey released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hoosier high school students have made significant improvements in behaviors associated with alcohol consumption over the past eight years.
These studies are really great resources, especially the local ones, and we watch the trends very closely, said Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner. But Im wondering if we are seeing a decrease in alcohol consumption simply because the teens have switched to something else.
Young people today are stressed, overwhelmed and depressed, McMahan said.
They are hurting – we know that – and they do the same thing adults do, they self-medicate, McMahan said.
Prescription drugs are a huge public health issue, McMahan said, and rapidly rising in popularity.
They are starting to overtake marijuana, which used to be second only to alcohol as far as usage, McMahan said.
Prescription drugs have become especially popular among teenagers, perhaps because they dont consider them to be serious drugs since they are easily accessible in their parents or grandparents nightstands and medicine cabinets, the health commissioner said.
Despite the progress Indiana adolescents have made in behaviors associated with alcohol consumption, the results also show that students are still participating in behaviors that are detrimental to their health.
All of the risky behaviors among teens that were analyzed in the study have one core element, McMahan said, and that is depression.
The study shows that students in Indiana were more likely than students across the country to attempt suicide, increasing from 7 percent in 2003 to 11 percent in 2011.
Last year in Allen County, five people younger than 25 committed suicide, McMahan said.
While this rate is right at the national level, its more than we want to see in this county, she said.
McMahan categorizes young people as those age 25 or younger.
Studies have shown that physiologically, the frontal cortex of the brain – responsible for critical thinking and decision making – is not fully developed until the age of 25, McMahan said.
We put these kids in positions where they must make decisions they are not prepared or capable of making, McMahan said.
McMahan is part of a newly formed group in Allen County that hopes to provide a platform to motivate changes in behavior among young people by addressing the root cause of risky behaviors.
The group is developing a strategic plan to offer the community life skills educational courses, she said.
While the initial classes will focus on young people and the specific issues they face – bullying, alcohol and drug abuse, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, depression, relationship violence – they would like to eventually expand the courses to include special populations such as suddenly single adults who find themselves back in the dating arena and gays and lesbians, McMahan said.
In addition, a summer intern at the Health Department is meeting regularly with several teenage focus groups to analyze their needs and pinpoint the gaps in addressing those needs, McMahan said.
We want to know how we can help these kids, McMahan said. They are crying out for help.