Survey finds Groton teens overestimate their peers' drug and alcohol use

Groton — Most Groton teenagers are making healthy and safe choices — but that's not necessarily the perception their peers have, the Groton Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention has found.

GASP Coordinator Carolyn Wilson said many youths think drug and alcohol use is much more prevalent among their peers than they actually reported on a 2018 youth survey. But if students realized that fewer of their peers are using substances, it may become easier for them to make a healthy choice for themselves, she said.

To counter misperceptions about substance abuse, GASP is starting its fourth campaign focused on social norms among Groton youths.

Posters hanging in the halls of schools highlight statistics from the 2018 survey including that 96 percent of "Groton teens think it's wrong to ride with someone who has been drinking or using drugs"; and 99 percent "of Groton teens don't abuse prescription medication" and 93 percent of Groton teens don't use e-cigarettes or vapes.

The brightly colored posters — featuring cupcakes, doughnuts and other desserts for the campaign's #PrettySweet theme — will be placed around Fitch High School, Ella T. Grasso Technical High School, Marine Science Magnet High School, Cutler Arts and Humanities Magnet Middle School and West Side STEM Magnet Middle School.

The online survey included responses from 1,300 middle and high school students in Groton, according to a news release.

"GASP data shows that most teens don't drink alcohol or use substances, yet substance abuse is often misperceived and overestimated by Groton teens," Wilson said in a statement. "Having accurate information about substance use is thought to lead to changes in perceptions of norms, and in turn, may lead to fewer students engaged in high-risk behaviors."

"If they think everyone is drinking alcohol or everyone is smoking weed, it's almost an easier choice for them to do it, but if they realize that's not actually what's going on, they may have an easier time making a healthy and safe choice," Wilson added in an interview.

In developing the posters, GASP got feedback from students about how they felt about the design and concept, she said.

Students particularly had a hard time believing the statistics that pointed to low marijuana use among Groton youths, she said. The survey found, for example, that 91 percent of Fitch High School students don't use marijuana.

Wilson said GASP is working to increase the perception of the harm of marijuana among youths. She said more youths understand the dangers of prescription drugs and alcohol, than marijuana. GASP has to counter messages youths receive about marijuana, whether from the marijuana industry increasingly pushing that the drug is healthy or a "cure all," or from music or pop culture, she said.

Adam Diskin, dean of students at Fitch High School, said the campaign is great for raising awareness. He said whether the students agree or disagree with the findings, it's a good conversation starter, and the school can then address what students are thinking.

GASP has done social norms campaigns using data from surveys in 2008, 2010 and 2012, according to a press release. 

The #PrettySweet campaign is modeled after an earlier Ledyard Prevention Coalition Campaign, and the posters are designed to be eye-catching, said Wilson.   

Wilson added that the campaign's message is amplified if parents also have given their disapproval of substance use and have clear expectations for their children.

She said GASP has found that youths will always care about what their peers do, but influence from families is the "biggest tool in the toolbox."

k.drelich@theday.com

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