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New Report Shows Alarming Rates of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Among Adolescents in California

June 15, 2006

Research Press Release

Contact:
Alcohol and Drug Policy Institute of California
4940 Irvine Blvd. Suite 202, Irvine, CA 92620
Tel: (714)505-3525
www.alcoholdrugpolicy.org

Irvine, CA - A new study of adolescent alcohol and drug abuse in California has found alarming rates of serious alcohol and drug problems, particularly in juvenile detention facilities and other high-risk environments such as continuation schools and group homes.

Approximately 70% of youth surveyed in juvenile detention facilities scored at the "cautionary" level in their alcohol and drug use, meaning that their use was at a significant level requiring a clinical assessment and development of a treatment intervention. Figures for youth in high risk environments, such as continuation schools and group homes, showed slightly lower involvement, but still more than 50% scored at the "cautionary" level. Even youth surveyed in mainstream schools showed clinically significant levels of alcohol and drug use at a 15% level.

The youth were surveyed using the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument (MAYSI~2), a highly reliable screening instrument validated in a large juvenile justice population. This instrument is designed to assist juvenile justice facilities in identifying youths 12-17 years old who may have alcohol /drug problems, or other mental health issues such as depression, thought disturbance, etc, in the last few months. For the California screening project 2,989 youth at 56 sites across nine California counties were screened.

"The level of harmful alcohol and drug use by adolescents in California identifies the need for treatment that far exceeds the State's limited adolescent drug and alcohol treatment system," according to Robert Garner, speaking on behalf of the County Alcohol and Drug Program Administrators Association of California (CADPAAC). CADPAAC is a joint sponsor of the study along with the Alcohol and Drug Policy Institute (ADPI). 

"More than 100,000 youth are booked into juvenile detention each year in California, and the MAYSI findings for this population indicate that more than 70,000 of these youth have clinically significant levels of alcohol and drug abuse," said Garner. "This means that all of these youth require a clinical assessment of their alcohol and drug problems as well as the related mental health issues, and the vast majority will require appropriate treatment.

"With a high school population of more than 1,900,000 in California last year (including both mainstream and continuation school populations), applying the MAYSI findings to this population indicates that an additional 360,000 adolescents need a clinical assessment and development of appropriate treatment interventions.

"These combined populations total more than 430,000 youth needing treatment for alcohol and drug problems in California. In contrast to that need, last year the total population of youth receiving alcohol and drug treatment statewide was just over 30,000," said Garner, "which means that only about one in fifteen youth needing alcohol and drug treatment receive it."

Other significant findings include:

  • In juvenile detention facilities over 70% of the youth surveyed admitted to using drugs and alcohol at the same time; over 65% admitted to being drunk or high at school; and nearly 55% admitted to being so drunk or high they couldn't remember what happened.
     
  • In mainstream schools, while the comparable figures are much lower, they are significant. Of the youth surveyed, 15% admitted to using drugs and alcohol at the same time; 15% admitted to being drunk or high at school; and nearly 20% admitted to being so drunk or high they couldn't remember what happened.
     
  • There were high levels of co-morbidity between alcohol and drug use and other mental health issues. For example, youth with high alcohol and drug scores were likely to score high on other indicators such as angry/irritable, depressed/anxious/ or suicidal ideation scales.
     
  • Youth in juvenile detention facilities reported much higher rates of alcohol and drug use and psychological disturbance than did comparable youth in previous research.
     
  • In juvenile detention and high risk settings Asian/Pacific Islanders reported higher levels of alcohol and drug use than African Americans, while in mainstream schools Asian/Pacific Islanders reported the least amount of substance abuse significantly less than Hispanics and Whites.
     
  • Among youth in high-risk settings, boys were more likely than girls to report getting into trouble and fighting while using substances.  Boys also reported more poly-substance use and were more likely than girls to say that they had been drunk or high at school. Girls in these same settings were more likely than boys to report that they had used substances to help them feel better. This pattern is consistent with the hypothesis that girls' substance use accompanies internalizing tendencies while boys' use accompanies externalizing behaviors.
     

Elizabeth Cauffman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior in the School of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine, and her assistant Elizabeth Shulman conducted the study.

The study was funded by a grant the Alcohol and Drug Policy Institute of California, a policy partner of CADPAAC.

Visit www.alcoholdrugpolicy.org for the full report.

Join Together publishes selected press releases on recently published research related to alcohol and drug policy, prevention, and treatment. The views expressed are those of the organization issuing the release.