The Douglas County Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition found in a community-needs assessment from the Tri-County Health Department that more than 26 percent of high school students in the Douglas County School District — about 1 in 4 — reported having at least one drink in the past 30 days in 2013.
More than 13 percent — about 1 in 8 students — reported binge drinking.
In the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, about 16 percent of students at the county and state level — or 1 in 6 — reported binge drinking on at least one of the past 30 days.
A common place where heavy or binge drinking occurs is at underage parties, said John Douglas, executive director of the Tri-County Health Department.
“It is often a social event,” Douglas said of reasons young people binge drink. “Whether it’s in your friend’s basement or a vacant lot or whatever, you’re consuming fast.”
Binge drinking is defined as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above .08 percent. A man will typically reach that BAC level when consuming five or more drinks in roughly two hours. For women, binge drinking means consuming four or more drinks in that same timeframe.
Young people often use substances to cope with stress and the pressures of life, said Steve Martinez, a substance abuse prevention coordinator who oversees the Douglas County Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, a network of local agencies that work to prevent youth substance abuse.
Several high school members of the Douglas County Youth Leadership Board, part of the coalition, agreed that substances are a way for local teens to gain social status but also to cope with stress or other issues.
Karston Ferrier, 15, a junior at Castle View High School, said he commonly sees drinking and vaping among students in Douglas County schools.
Brady Kuzinski, 16, also a junior at Castle View, believes kids use substances for “a huge range” of reasons, from helping to deal with family issues to stress.
Mia Hebinck, a 15-year-old student at Mountain Vista High School, said the level of substance use varies by school. She believes kids use drugs and alcohol less because of peer pressure and more because of low self-esteem or anxiety.
Ferrier, Kuzinski and Hebinck said they choose not to use alcohol or drugs because they do not believe the consequences — on their health or their performance at school and in activities — are worth it.
But for many of their peers, “I feel like part of it is an ego or status thing,” Hebinck said. “I also think when kids are stressed out about school, or stressed out about their family life, they might try a substance to escape the real world.”