February 26, 2020

Teen Substance Abuse in South Orange County
We tend to see higher rates of substance abuse in South Orange County and along the beach communities. Sometimes, the kids will have more resources, so it’s easier for them to get drugs and alcohol.”

~Amy Buch, division manager of health promotion for Orange County’s Health Care Agency

Typically, poverty is cited as a risk factor for teenage substance abuse. It seems, however, that in certain schools districts in South Orange County – Capistrano Unified, Laguna Beach Unified, and Newport-Mesa Unified, in particular – affluent teens may be just as at risk.

In those school districts, 35%-50% of 11th graders self-reported drinking and 23%-30% said they used drugs within the previous 30 days, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Why Are the Rates Higher Here Than in Other Parts of Orange County or California As a Whole?

There are many factors that play a part:

  • Parental substance use – Children of alcoholics are up to 4 times more likely to become addicted to alcohol or other substances.
  • Parental “approval” – Some parents feel that if they let their children drink at home, it is somehow “safer”. On the contrary, students whose parents let them drink typically experience a sharp escalation in their alcohol use.
  • Lack of impactful consequences – For well-to-do teens, a fine imposed for drinking or smoking is little more than an inconvenience.
  • Peer pressure – In school districts where substance use is so common, it is hard for many teens to abstain and be seen as “uncool”.
  • Presence in society – Children take their cues from their environment. For example, Laguna Beach has the greatest concentration of businesses that sell alcohol in all of Orange County. Not coincidentally, it also has high rates of teen substance use:
  • Smoking – 8%
  • Drug use – 8%
  • Drinking – 7%
What Can Be Done to Combat Teen Substance Use in Orange County?

Orange County is a prime example of why a “one-size-fits-all” approach to preventing teenage substance abuse doesn’t work. Efforts should be tailored to the unique needs and demographics of each city. When an individualized campaign is launched, greater success is realized.

Director Buch says, “We know the environment matters. Just telling kids, “Don’t use drugs, don’t use alcohol” isn’t going to be affected. We have to social context in which risk takes place and make sure we customize the messages.”

Community-level interventions work. Prevention efforts in Garden Grove, for example, have focused on preventing teen access to alcohol:

  • “Social Host” ordinance – Adults who allow underage drinking in their homes can be charged.
  • Warning labels – Stickers on alcohol bottles reminding purchasers that it is illegal to provide alcohol to anyone under the age of 21.

The good news?

Community-focused prevention campaigns are expanding.

Besides Garden Grove, 7 other Orange County communities have passed social host ordinances. In Laguna Beach, there is a program that teaches parents how to prepare their children for the pressures and temptations of middle school.

Lynn Posey, who serves as the Community Development Specialist for Mission Hospital in Laguna Beach, says, “We know if kids start experimenting at younger ages, they are more likely to be exposed to other drugs and substances. It’s setting them up for a lifetime of chemical dependency.”

Just as individual communities have unique needs, so do adolescents and teens. Treatment that is effective for adult substance abusers may not necessarily work with teenagers. For over 35 years, Teensavers Treatment Centers has been the most-trusted name in Orange County drug and alcohol rehab.

If your teenager is struggling with substance abuse and/or any other emotional condition, the experienced professionals at Teensavers know what to do to give your child their best chance at returning to a sober and productive life.

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