For the longest time we have operated under the belief that educating young people about the dangers of drugs and alcohol was the best thing we could do to prevent abuse. To a certain degree, that is true. We have seen how increased education efforts over the years have helped prevent some kids from going down the abuse and addiction road. As far as it goes, education is a good thing.

New polling data, however, should cause us to rethink how effective education really is. Does drug and alcohol education accomplish what we really believe it does? Could more be done? And if so, what is it we should do?

The polling data is part of a series of polls commissioned by the Belfast edition of The Telegraph and conducted by an organisation known as LucidTalk. The poll of 550 teenagers from Northern Ireland shows that approximately 83% of them believe drug and alcohol abuse is an issue that is very important to them. That’s the good news. The bad news is that many of the same kids do not perceive themselves to be in any danger from alcohol or drug use.

So what explains the disparity? It goes back to the idea that young people mistakenly believe they are invincible. They see how drugs and alcohol are affecting their friends and peers, but they are supremely confident in their own abilities to not get into trouble. Yet they are still getting into trouble.

A Serious Problem

Drug and alcohol abuse in the UK are indeed serious problems. Therefore, it is good to know that 83% of our young people recognise the problem. This at least gives us a starting point for combating the rising use of alcohol and drugs here. It is important that those involved in the issue take advantage of this awareness among young people rather than just dismissing it as more polling data.

We take advantage of the awareness by concentrating research efforts on discovering why kids use drugs and alcohol to begin with. It has to be about more than just peer pressure. Kids already know the destructive nature of substance abuse thanks to all of the information they have been fed since they were old enough to go to school. There has to be other factors involved that would encourage them to take that risk despite knowing the dangers thereof.

We also take advantage of the awareness by taking heed to what many of these kids know as learned behaviour. The number one target of learned behaviour is alcohol.

Alcohol is, by far, the most abused substance in the UK. You could make the case that the problem is rooted in the combination of easy access and cultural norms. As The Telegraph points out, our entire culture revolves around alcohol to one degree or another. Kids are constantly exposed to adults drinking as casually as if they were consuming water. It’s no wonder they view alcohol as not being damaging.

The polling data from LucidTalk clearly shows that these kids are aware of what it is the adults are doing. It is not hard to make the connection between example and learned behaviour. When adults do not take alcohol seriously, neither will their children. Getting a handle on abuse and addiction among teens will require getting a handle on adult behaviours as well.

LucidTalk and The Telegraph concluded that this most recent polling data should be a wake-up call for modern culture. We agree. The fact that so many young people recognise there is a serious problem should say something. And it should say it loudly and clearly. Inform yourself about children and students with addictions in our student addiction guide.

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