Parents updated on latest teen drug and alcohol trends
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Fri., Jan. 17, 2014
Parents at the Glastonbury Drug and Prevention Council's presentation on Jan. 15 got a large sampling of what drug and alcohol trends are affecting their teens. Rachel Bruno, program manager at The Governor's Prevention Partnership, headed the program that identified trends in the way substances – including alcohol, marijuana alternatives and others – are marketed toward younger people.
One example is “flavored beer,” which includes malt beverages, hard lemonades and others. “What's interesting is the manufacturing process,” Bruno said, explaining that the beverages are brewed like beers, but then the filtering process removes the flavor and alcohol, making it essentially water. Then, malt liquor and other flavorings are added.
“Because it started as a beer base, they are able to call it a flavored beer,” she said. “That has two consequences. The first is that this product can be sold in places that have a beer-only permit. That means there is increased availability in the environment for kids.”
The same products are also taxed as beer, instead of at the higher hard liquor rate. “That means it's at a lower price point for kids,” Bruno said, adding that some states, including California, have already re-classified the products, putting them further from the reach of teens.
Alcoholic energy drinks are also on the rise, and dangerous for a variety of reasons. Their packaging is difficult to distinguish from their non-alcoholic counterparts, and some have a much higher alcohol content than beer or other drinks. One 23.5-oz. can of Four Loko, for example, has the alcohol of 6.6 standard drinks.
“You consume one of these, you've already consumed a six pack of beer, or six shots in a row,” Bruno said. “You are getting drunk very quickly off of this. If you look at it, it looks like any Monster energy drink or any Arizona Iced Tea. You'd think it's a single serving, because that's the size of it.”
Another new product is AeroShots – one-time inhalers that deliver 100mg of caffeine. While they don't contain alcohol themselves, they are being marketed so that the user can stay awake and drink all night.
“They are so popular with teens that are looking to be able to drink,” Bruno said. “If you're drinking multiple alcoholic drinks, you're going to want to go to bed. By pairing it with caffeine, you're able to just keep on drinking.”
Bruno added that mixing caffeine – a stimulant - with alcohol – a depressant - has many health risks, and the popular misconceptions among teens is that adding caffeine to alcohol makes one less intoxicated, which is not the case.
Marijuana use is also trending upward. Bruno said a big reason is “because of the political landscape” and “a lot of confusion” as to whether it is medicine or safe, compared to other drugs.
In Connecticut, 52.9 percent of high school seniors have used marijuana, which is higher than the national average of 48.9 percent. Those, Bruno said, are historical highs, and higher than cigarette use.
Marijuana lobbyists are well-organized, she said, while tobacco use has received negative publicity for decades. “Kids have taken health classes and seen that black lung and the PSAs on TV,” Bruno said. “Kids understand that. There is not the same funding to present the risks associated with marijuana. They are so well-funded that they are able to present studies about the benefits of marijuana, and those are the ones we're seeing in the media.”
Bruno said her organization can provide many resources for parents, including about how to have conversations with their kids. Glastonbury Youth and Family Services Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator Emily Dickinson gave some suggestions. “We always say to start early and talk often,” Dickinson said. “It's also about knowing where they are and who they are with.”
“Dont' ever underestimate your importance and having those consistent, clear messages,” said Geralyn Laut, former president of GLAD.
Dickinson said there is also an effort to let kids know that not all of their peers are using substances, and putting a positive light on abstaining from alcohol and drugs.
There are also seminars geared toward teen peer leaders about the marketing of alcohol to teens. Glastonbury's Youth Advisory Council will also be presenting a forum called “The Truth about Alcohol” on Feb. 13.