Marijuana, Alcohol, and Young People

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On Monday, August 17th, the Buddy Program hosted a community conversation, “Talking to Your Kids About Marijuana,” featuring Erin Flynn from the Colorado Department of Public Health. Because the human brain continues to develop up to age 25, the longer a young person waits to start using substances such as alcohol and marijuana, the less likely she is to have problems with substance abuse. Furthermore, regularly consuming these substances under age 25 can adversely affect brain and overall development.   These facts make it crucial that we work as a community to delay the use of alcohol and marijuana by our youth as long as we can. This is particularly true for a community where substance use, abuse and partying are known phenomena. Because of our role in working with so many youth in the valley, the Buddy Program is calling attention to this idea to help generate a broader conversation on the topic.

At the meeting, Shelley Evans, newly appointed Executive Director of Community Health Initiatives (CHI), presented some sobering results from a recent survey of Aspen students. While 8th graders’ usage of alcohol (8% in the last 30 days) and marijuana (4%) is below average, these numbers rise DRAMATICALLY between 8th and 10th grades. In that timeframe, substance usage increases to ABOVE the national average: 43% of Aspen’s 10th graders have consumed alcohol (national average: 26%) and 22% of 10th graders have used marijuana (national average 18%, all stats 30-day use). By 12th grade, 44% of high-school seniors, nearly double the national average of 23%, report having used marijuana in the past 30 days.

Moreover, 61% of Aspen Juniors and Seniors say that they have used alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs at home WITHOUT a parent or guardian knowing. From a different regional study, only 5% of students overall indicated using marijuana at school. And the CHI Aspen data indicate that the majority of students who drink do so at a friend’s house (76%). This is a community problem taking place primarily OUTSIDE of school grounds, and requires a community solution. Shelley would like the community to know that CHI is kicking off a prevention needs assessment and abuse prevention planning process beginning in September to address these issues. For more information and resources, please be sure to also support the Aspen School District and CHI in their ongoing efforts to bring a positive drug-free culture to Aspen schools. And while the data referred to here are specific to Aspen, this is surely not a problem limited to only Aspen.

While there is no silver bullet solution to these issues, research shows that parents have the single greatest impact in addressing this problem. Parents should have REGULAR, ONGOING conversations (NOT a one-time talk) with their children about drug use and how to say no, role model good behaviors, learn the best practices for addressing behaviors with their children, and connect their teenagers to resources in the valley.

Research also shows that teenagers benefit greatly from having an adult that they trust—IN ADDITION TO a parent or family member—to speak to when it comes to these potentially sensitive subjects. An adult mentor is a caring adult friend who is NOT a parent, teacher, or someone in a supervisory or disciplinarian role, but who is a trusted role model to whom the child can turn. Whether supplied through the Buddy Program or another QUALIFIED organization, we know that ALL children benefit from having another caring adult in their lives.  Abstaining from marijuana and alcohol use is one of the potential major benefits!

We extend our sincere thanks to Erin Flynn of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; Shelley Evans, Executive Director of Community Health Initiatives; Pitkin County Community Health Services; Brad Stevenson at the Valley Marijuana Council; The Aspen Times; and The Little Nell for their help in sponsoring this important presentation for our community. For more information and resources on this topic, and to view and download the materials and data presented, visit

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