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Valley youth start late, catch up fast on substance abuse

Alcohol is the "drug of choice" for Valley youth, Steve Bates said, in a report on findings from the biannual Healthy Youth Survey.

Bates, a member of the Snoqualmie Valley Community Network and counselor at Opstad Middle School, said the survey showed alcohol use increasing as students got older. Asked about alcohol use in the last 30 days, 52 seniors said they had at least one drink. As sophomores, this group had 36 students admit to drinking, and as eighth graders, 16 students.

The number of seniors drinking alcohol in the last 30 days was right around the state average, but the eighth grade numbers were lower. Valley youth tended to not use alcohol and other illegal drugs at as young an age as students statewide seemed to.

"The pattern for the Valley is to start later, kids are protected more, but then kids catch up faster," he explained.

Alcohol use was one of many subjects on which students were questioned when they took the Healthy Youth Survey March 18. The survey is anonymous and strictly voluntary, and provides the network with a snapshot of growing up in the Snoqualmie Valley. It is given biannually to students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12.

Students are asked about their consumption of  prescription drugs, tobacco products, marijuana, and alcohol, including binge drinking. The survey also looks at student lifestyle, with questions on getting enough sleep, eating breakfast, feeling safe and involved at school, and bullying. In the Valley, students tended to get eight hours of sleep and eat breakfast more often than state averages, but their responses to questions about being bullied (around 25 percent in most grades, higher for 8 and 10)  and feeling safe at school (more than 80 percent in most grades, dropping to about 75 by 12) followed the state averages.

Another area of the survey focused on student perceptions of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, and whether they thought adults in their neighborhoods thought they were wrong. Around 80 percent of sixth graders, and 60 percent of eighths graders thought adults would say using alcohol was wrong, which was about the state average. In the older grades, though, area students had a more forgiving perception of alcohol than average; around 30 percent in grade 10 thought it was wrong, and less than 20 percent in grade 12.

The trend was the same for tobacco and marijuana, although the percentages of students who felt that using the other substances was wrong were higher all around.

"The longer period of protection around our younger kids seems to evaporate, and the change happens between the start of eighth grade and the start of tenth grade," said Bates. "So by the time tenth grade starts and kids take that next survey, the risk factors have increased."

However, students in all grade levels felt their was a high risk inherent in smoking cigarettes, 75 to 80 percent in all grades except 12, where just over 60 percent of students felt there was significant risk. In comparison, around 40 percent of youth in the Valley and statewide felt there was great risk of harm from drinking alcohol.

"The perception is definitely out there, that smoking cigarettes is more harmful, and more wrong, than drinking," Bates said.

Finally, the survey asked students about depression, and suicidal thoughts. More than 20 percent of sophomore respondents said they'd seriously considered suicide in the past year. At the eighth grade level, it was 12 percent and for seniors, about 18 percent.

"This is always the scariest statistic of all," Bates said. "It's the reason why we, for the last six years, have had involvement with the youth suicide prevention program."

The Community Network uses the results of the Healthy Youth Survey to develop recommendations for the Snoqualmie Valley and Riverview School Districts that it serves. For more information on the network, visit snoqualmievalleycommunitynetwork.org.

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