NISKAYUNA -- A 2016 survey sponsored by the Niskayuna Community Action Program dispelled any notions that Niskayuna students don't struggle with drugs, alcohol or mental health issues.
The survey revealed that Niskayuna seniors outpace the national average in lifetime (or frequent use) alcohol consumption.
It also showed that students were using marijuana more frequently than is typical, and several are struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.
“Some of the social and emotional aspects of the survey is reflective of the conversations we’ve had with students ... We now have hard data that supports our soft data” said Niskayuna superintendent Dr. Cosimo Tangorra.
N-CAP, in partnership with the school district, has sponsored the survey every two years since 2008. With it, N-CAP seeks to provide a view of how often students are drinking alcohol, using drugs and what their social pressures and needs are.
The survey was administered in the spring by Bach Harrison LLC to students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12.
While the survey included a range of topics and questions, some of the most significant trends were seen in the alcohol and marijuana portions of the survey.
A total of 51.6 percent of seniors said they had consumed alcohol within the previous 30 days. That’s the highest level since the survey was first taken, in 2008.
The percentage of students who have consumed alcohol and tried marijuana in the 30 days before the survey was up in every participating grade.
The most significant increase in marijuana use was evident in the sophomore class -- up 13.9 percent from 2014.
According to Kristin Sweeter, N-CAP's grant manager, there were two surprising drug/alcohol related concerns the survey brought to light this year: the increase in alcohol consumption among seniors and the use of marijuana.
In Niskayuna, lifetime alcohol use (or regular use) among the senior class is 75 percent and 48.6 percent for marijuana.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the national average of alcohol use among high school seniors is 66 percent, and marijuana use is 34.9 percent.
Since Sweeter started working with N-CAP and in the district in 2014, she’s often heard within the community that Niskayuna doesn’t have problems with drug and alcohol abuse.
The study validates the reason Sweeter came on board in the first place: Niskayuna students are, in fact, struggling with drug, alcohol and emotional problems.
“Our kids are more mobile than ever,” Sweeter said. This makes accessing illegal substances and alcohol easier.
“A majority of kids are not social drinkers; they’re drinking to get drunk,” Sweeter added.
According to the data, the binge-drinking rate (classified as having five or more drinks in one sitting) for 12th graders -- at 51.6 percent -- is equal to the rate of students who consumed alcohol over the previous 30 days.
While most of the national attention has been focused on hard drug use, Sweeter believes alcohol and marijuana have become more socially acceptable substances.
The survey also asked students if they had driven after having alcohol or if they’d been in a car with someone whom they thought had been drinking.
A total of 22 high school students drove after drinking, and 83 rode in a car when they knew the driver had been drinking.
Sweeter said she was dismayed at those statistics.
Tangorra, however, said the district is first going to address the mental health issues raised by the research.
When students were asked if they sometimes think life is not worth living, 14 percent of sixth graders, 17.2 percent of eighth graders, 24.4 percent of 10th graders and 30 percent of seniors agreed.
The survey also asked students if they ever thought about suicide.
Within the sixth-grade class, 2 percent of students said they had seriously considered taking their own lives.
The percentages increased with each class surveyed, with 7.3 percent of the senior class having considered it.
“N-CAP was founded after a string of suicides in the town, and we wanted to include a section on mental health as a look-back to our roots,” Sweeter said.
Much of the data was surprising to parents who attended a recent presentation by N-CAP at Niskayuna High School.
Tangorra said the school district will investigate the issues within its student forums and within the Environment and Culture Group (made up of community members, staff and faculty).
“In the end, this isn’t only a school issue, it’s a community issue,” Dr. Tangorra said, adding that the school district values its partnership with N-CAP for that reason.
A few of the positive highlights from the research focused more on the social aspects of students' lives.
Community connections have increased, meaning students feel more connected to one another. The majority of students valued their families and believed their parents’ perspective is important.
When Sweeter is involved in presentations about the Prevention Needs Assessment Data, she often hears one question from parents: “How do I talk to my child about this, and what do I say?”
Sweeter agrees that bringing up drug and alcohol use can be an uncomfortable conversation. But it’s one that needs to happen.
“Just have that conversation, and don’t be judgmental. It can be a three-minute conversation,” Sweeter said.
To view the results of the survey, visit: http://ncapnisky.org/
For tips on prevention and tackling difficult topics with your child, visit: