The abuse of drugs and alcohol creates a range of social and individual ills, and those ills are compounded when the abuse starts at a young age. Young people can, in some cases, literally be throwing their lives away when they drink or take drugs.
So it was heartbreaking to read in the Times Free Press about the astonishing rates of substance abuse among young people in Hamilton County.
Here are just a few of the findings from the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey:
• Forty-five percent of male high school students who responded to the survey had used one or more of four dangerous substances -- alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine or marijuana -- in the past month.
• Thirty-eight percent of female high schoolers had used at least one of those substances in the past month.
• Among high school seniors, the abuse rate was 52 percent.
• Alcohol, not surprisingly, was the single-most abused substance, with 32 percent of students having drunk alcoholic beverages in the past month. In descending order, the next most frequently abused substances in the preceding month were marijuana, cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. Over a broader period of time, 15 percent of students said that they had misused prescription drugs, and more than 10 percent had used inhalants.
• All told, about 70 percent of local high schoolers have used addictive substances.
Some dismiss substance abuse as a mere "rite of passage" or "youthful indiscretion."
But there is no "passage" to adulthood for young people who die in auto accidents after drinking alcohol or who have a deadly reaction to illegal drugs. One such "youthful indiscretion" can be the last. And the long-term health dangers of tobacco are well known.
Of course, we know that young people are not always going to exercise mature judgment and can face enormous peer pressure to engage in dangerous activity.
That makes it all the more important for parents, teachers, church leaders and others in positions of authority over our youths to teach them the enormous dangers of drugs and alcohol -- and to back up that teaching with a balanced combination of encouragement and, when needed, discipline.
No loss of life to drug or alcohol abuse is ever acceptable, but it is doubly tragic when the victim is a young person. We should all resolve to reduce such tragedies in any way that we can.