In 2009, over 2,000 Evanston Township High School students were asked about their drug use behaviors and their perception of their peers’ drug use behaviors. Results found that students had an inflated perception of what their peers were doing. In the 30 days prior to the survey, 73 percent of ETHS students said they did not smoke marijuana. However, 84 percent of students perceived that most students had smoked marijuana in the 30 days prior to the survey.

Why is this important? If a teenager thinks everyone is using, he or she may be more willing to use. The graph below explains this process, according to a social theory that teens often experiment with drugs because they want to fit in with their peers .

The good news is that the majority of ETHS students are not smoking marijuana. However, there are still students at ETHS who do so regularly. Marijuana is often considered a natural, less harmful drug; here are some facts to keep in mind:

THE BRAIN:

• Research has shown that marijuana use disrupts adolescents’ ability to learn and form new memories more significantly than it does in adults.

THE LUNGS:

• Marijuana and tobacco contain many of the same toxins, such as tar, carbon monoxide and cyanide. Studies have shown higher levels of carbon monoxide and tar in the lungs after smoking a marijuana joint compared to a tobacco cigarette.

IS IT ADDICTIVE?

• Research is still evolving on this question. While it has generally been assumed that marijuana is not addictive, more studies are finding that some people experience withdrawal symptoms (irritability, anxiety, difficulty sleeping) when they stop smoking marijuana. The majority of teens and 15 percent of all Americans entering drug treatment identify marijuana as their primary drug of abuse. In addition, 61 percent of Americans in drug treatment report abusing marijuana (in combination with other drugs.)

Quick Tips for Parents

• Talk to your child about the healthy norm

• The data aboveshows the norm at ETHS is that students make healthy choices that do not involve marijuana use. ETHS students also say that they think their parents are a believable source of information. Be sure to share this with them.

• Increase positive influences

• Be a positive influence in your child’s life. As positive influences increase in a child’s life, their risks decrease. Help them get involved in positive activities and develop positive relationships with peers and adults.

• Help them understand their misperceptions

• ETHS is a very big school. Sometimes it’s hard for teens to imagine that some conversations they overhear or behavior they see isn’t what everyone at the high school is doing. Help them break down misperceptions by asking them questions such as: How many other ETHS students did you see this weekend? How many were smoking pot?

• Understand and be able to identify signs of risky behavior

• There are lots of helpful Internet sites specifically for parents, such as www.antidrug.com or www.drugfree.com. If you think your child needs help you can talk to someone at PEER Services, 847- 492-1778, or ETHS, 847- 424-7203.

Sponsored by the Evanston Substance Abuse Prevention Council.