Colorado survey shows teens report more adults struggle with substance abuse

Heather Willard
(Rise Above Colorado)

(Douglas County, Colo.) Colorado teens are much more likely to report that they live with someone who has a substance use disorder or is addicted to alcohol or drugs than they were two years ago, according to a survey of 718 Colorado teens.

The survey was commissioned by Rise Above Colorado, a statewide prevention organization that seeks to impact teen perceptions and attitudes about substance abuse risks and empower youth to make healthy choices. The online survey was conducted from March through May by HealthCare Research.

Two out of five (40%) juveniles now say they have lived with an adult with a substance use issue, up from 25% of teens who reported that two years ago. Youth in these situations are twice as likely to have recently misused substances.

Data collected shows female youth disproportionately feel the effects of challenging home environments. The percentage of female teens who live with an adult affected by substance abuse more than doubled since 2020 — rising from 22% to 47%. This is significantly higher than for male teens.

In addition, girls who reported spending three or more hours a day on social media were more likely to misuse marijuana, alcohol and pills and they also expressed greater curiosity to try substances.

“It’s concerning that more teens are seeing adults they live with having issues with alcohol or drugs,” said Kent MacLennan, executive director of Rise Above Colorado.

“It’s a good reminder to all parents and other adults who live with teens that children are paying attention, and that we are modeling behavior, whether we intend to or not. Drinking and drug use by adults is impacting the kids who live with them.”

However, the vast majority of Colorado teens are not regularly using substances. Large majorities of youth 12-17 reported that in the past 30 days they did not use marijuana (87%), did not vape (83%) and did not drink alcohol (81%).

According to data collected by the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, 92 drug overdose deaths occurred during 2020-2021 in Douglas County — 27 of which were attributed to opioids. These deaths were most commonly recorded for ages 25-34 with 22 deaths, followed by ages 35-44 with 21 deaths and 15-24 coming in third with 16 overdose deaths.

The survey results also highlight warning signs for the youngest teens:

  • More youth aged 12-13 reported they have challenging mental health days. About 60% report experiencing at least three poor mental health days in a given month.
  • Younger teens perceive less risk in regular substance use compared to 2020. A third of this age group said substance use is just part of being a teen and can help manage stress.
  • The same age group also reported significantly more direct offers to use substances compared to 2020, including offers of marijuana (49%), cocaine (21%), and prescription drugs not prescribed to them (29%).

“These latest survey results offer cause for both concern and hope. The reduced perception of harm for substance use among the youngest teens and the increase in offers of substances are a big red flag,” said MacLennan. “This data more closely aligns with what we’ve historically seen among older youth. On the other hand, the survey finding that fewer teens are overestimating their peers’ substance use is encouraging because this empowers them to make healthy choices. We must work together to build on that progress.”

About 90% of teens see at least a “moderate amount of risk” associated with taking pills that were purchased online or on the street and 91% at least “somewhat concerned” that a pill may be laced with other substances, such as fentanyl.

Nearly half (45%) of teens report having a conversation with a parent or guardian about the overdose risks of fentanyl and contaminated pills.

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Public safety reporter in DougCo, Denver metro. Previously: Pueblo Chieftain public safety reporter, Athens Messenger associate editor. Caffeine fiend, cat mom and lover of all things spooky.

Broomfield, CO

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