Birmingham and Bloomfield 12th grade students have exceeded the national average in both alcohol and marijuana use.
According to the 2011-2012 Birmingham Bloomfield Community Coalition survey, more high schools seniors in Birmingham and Bloomfield use marijuana and drink alcohol than the national average.
According to Kelly Michaud, director of the youth potion of the BBCC, the concerning part of this data is that Birmingham/Bloomfield averages are below or about equal to national averages in alcohol in marijuana use until teens reach their senior year.
“Of concern, is the increase in use as our teens get older,” Michaud said. “12th grade use has increased from our 2009 survey, and is also higher than the national average”
The coalition gives these surveys every two years. With the questions about usage, are also questions about why this usage occurs.
According to the data for alcohol and marijuana use, the number one reason why teens decide to use substances is the perception that a peer is also using the drug.
“I believe that teens think more teens are actually drinking and using drugs than actually are,” Michaud said. “Most of our teens are making good choices, but there is a pretty big misperception that more teens are drinking and using drugs than actually are.”
While at first glance this may seem like good old’ fashioned peer pressure, the survey concludes that the main cause of use is distinct. Rather than a friend pressuring a student into smoking or drinking, the student puts pressure on themselves to fit into community norms.
One of these community norms is a declining perception of risk associated with marijuana use.
According to the survey, about 47% of eleventh and twelfth graders associated marijuana use as a highly risky behavior.
Junior Ashley Sawchuk said that she finds this to be a common misperception at Seaholm.
“I’d say the biggest misconception is that weed has no health risks,” Sawchuk said. “Just because it’s never technically killed someone doesn’t mean it’s not bad for you”
Michaud said that a low risk of harm is a problem with both alcohol and marijuana use.
“There is also a pretty big misperception that there is no real harm form drinking or smoking marijuana,” Michaud said.
Seaholm student Ally Johnson* said that she believes using marijuana in limited amounts is acceptable and expected for most high school students.
“I believe that smoking weed now and then on the weekends with your close friends in safe, non-risky areas can be harmless,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, the majority of people who use marijuana and alcohol are accepted by their peers.
“Over all, if you’re not a complete burn out stoner who fills the ignorant lazy hippy stereotypes, than you are most likely still accepted within the social community because at some point almost every high school student parties,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that perswonal experience has led her to see that there are in fact some risks associated with marijuana use.
“Through personal experience, I have learned that weed is not as always as harmless as us youngsters claim it to be,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, problems can occur when smoking becomes a student’s number one priority.
“Over time, there is a chance that their grades slip, friendships will be ruined, but the most harmful, possible, affect is they become too comfortable with it,” Johnson said.
As far as lowering Birmingham’s substance abuse statistics, Michaud said that parents play a key role.
“Parents need to stay informed, be connected to their teen and communicate their values,” Michaud said.
According to the survey, parent approval is the number one factor in a teen’s decision to drink or use drugs.
Michaud said that some parents don’t think their teen’s drug us is a problem.
“There are some that are completely unaware that it’s happening at all and think it would never be their teen,” Michaud said.
Beyond parents, the school system is also part of preventing and punishing drug and alcohol abuse.
According to Assistant principal Deb Boyer, Seaholm’s policies are modeled off of national policies.
“There’s a national board that looks at board of education policies, so any policies we have are based on those policies,” Boyer said.
Boyer said that when it comes to enforcing punishment for drug and alcohol related offenses, solid proof that the offense is occurring is a necessity.
“I can here lots of things, but it doesn’t mean I have proof of a lot of things,” Boyer said.
Principal Dee Barash said that when students are caught with illegal drugs or alcohol at Seaholm there is a specific set of steps in place.
“The automatic policy is a ten day suspension which is reduced if we get a negative drug screen back. If we get a positive drug screen then you have the full ten days,” Barash said. “If you get caught a second time that’s another ten days and the third time is a recommendation for expulsion.”
Superintendent Daniel Nerad said that the district has gone as far to expel students for drug related offenses.
Nerad said that the district desires a prevention rather than a punishment focused system.
“We’re really focused on prevention and focused on behaviors that help them be a strong person,” Nerad said.
*name is changed upon the request of the student
**survey information is based on the Birmingham Bloomfield Community Coalition survey that is done by a professional with built in checks for false or faulty information.