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Most Wyoming high school and middle school students don't use illegal drugs, binge drink, or smoke tobacco, but mistakenly believe that many more of their classmates do, a new statewide survey reveals.
It's both interesting and significant that the survey showed wide divides between perception and reality when it comes to substance use and abuse among Wyoming youth," says Rodger McDaniel, Wyoming Department of Health deputy director for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. "When young people think ‘everyone else is doing it so maybe I should too,' it can clearly affect their personal choices. We're hoping that Wyoming students realize that fitting in actually means not using illegal or potentially harmful substances."
The greatest difference in perception versus reality occurred in methamphetamine use. Fully 99 percent of high school students statewide reported they had not used methamphetamines in the past 30 days, but nearly half said they believed most students in their school were using.
Other examples of large gaps between usage perception and reality include:
-- Four out of five high school students said they had not used illegal drugs in the past 30 days, but approximately nearly the same proportion believed most of their schoolmates had.
-- Five out of six high school students said they had not used marijuana in the past 30 days, but the same proportion believed most of their schoolmates had.
-- More than two-thirds of 12th graders and three-quarters of 10th graders did not participate in binge drinking in the past two weeks, but 88 percent believed most of their schoolmates had.
-- Twelfth graders (75 percent) and 10th graders (81 percent) said they had not smoked any cigarettes in the past 30 days, but five out of six thought most of their schoolmates had.
"Previous research shows that once students are aware of how few of their peers are actually using they feel much less pressure to experiment with illegal drugs or abuse alcohol," says Eric Canen, a research scientist who conducted the study.
Sponsored by the Wyoming Department of Health, the 2008 Prevention Needs Assessment (PNA) survey was conducted by the Wyoming Survey & Analysis Center at the University of Wyoming.
Canen says the survey is a paper and pencil questionnaire administered anonymously to all sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grade students in Wyoming public schools every two years since 2001-02. The questions measure the use of 13 substances, problem behaviors such as vandalism and violence and other factors that influence whether students engage in these activities.
"This year was the first we asked questions about perceptions of use among peers and compared their perceptions to reality," Canen says.
The Wyoming Department of Health's Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Division is working with local prevention leaders and groups to share information with parents, students and community members about the true substance usage rates in their areas as compared to youth beliefs.
Statewide results from this year's PNA also showed, when compared to the results from the three previous surveys, fewer middle school students were trying alcohol and cigarettes. Recent marijuana use also declined for eighth and 10th grade students.
Other findings include:
-- Alcohol was the most commonly used substance overall, but 53 percent of 12th graders, 62 percent of 10th graders, 77 percent of 8th graders and 94 percent of 6th graders did not use alcohol in the past 30 days.
-- Cigarette use was second, but 75 percent of 12th graders, 81 percent of 10th graders, 91 percent of 8th graders, and 98 percent of 6th graders did not use cigarettes in the past 30 days.
-- Marijuana use was third, but 84 percent of 12th graders, 86 percent of 10th graders, 94 percent of 8th graders and 99 percent of 6th graders did not use marijuana in the past 30 days.
McDaniel noted concern about increases shown by the survey in the use of inhalants, particularly among 10th grade students.
The 2008 survey profile report can be viewed online at http://wysac.uwyo.edu/pna.
Detailed county-level information is available, in addition to statewide results.