The Nova Scotia Department of Health defines substance abuse as the utilization of any substance that causes problems in areas of one's personal life, as well as emotional disturbances. Other problems that are associated with substance abuse include, problems with the law, social problems, health related problems, as well as interference with school performance and relationships (Nova Scotia Department of Health, 2002).
Some may argue that adolescents are at a greater risk for substance abuse when compared to adults and therefore require programs and services aimed at lowering the number of youth who are using illegal substances, such as tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis. Ross (2003) explains that adolescents are at a greater risk than other age groups for substance abuse because their brains are at a different developmental stage. Research has found that certain regions of the brain that are responsible for monitoring impulses and motivation are not fully formed at this stage of development.
Adolescents are more likely than adults or children to engage in risk taking and impulsive behaviour, such as experimentation with new drugs, due to the high activity and "quick fire change" of this region of the brain (Ross, 2003, p. 1). The Nova Scotia Department of Health (2003) recognized substance abuse as a problem in the adolescent population in the Nova Scotia region when they reported that over half (51. 7%) of the students ranging from grades 7 to 12 indicated that they had used alcohol at least once in the past year.
Twenty-three percent of this sample indicated that they had used tobacco and 36. 5% indicated that they had used cannabis at least once in the past year. In addition, 17. 3% of students surveyed reported using all three, alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis, during the previous year. It has also been found that 22. 8% of students surveyed had reportedly been a passenger in a motor vehicle that was being operated by an impaired driver. Statistics such as these are always disturbing to read however the real impact can be made when we hear the stories of those effected first-hand.
One grade 10 female was quoted saying, "Me and my friends drink a lot because when you're in a small town there's truly nothing else to do on the weekend but drink/smoke pot. Don't get me wrong we don't every day but we usually do" (Province of Nova Scotia, 2002). Peer pressure among students seems to play a large role in the amount of students who use and abuse substances. The Nova Scotia Department of Health (2003) found that students who have friends that use cannabis and have drug related problems are at a greater risk for using cannabis and having similar problems themselves.
One program that has been established specifically to target adolescent substance abuse is a program founded by Dr. Jack Yazar in 1996, known as Youth Speaks-Up. This group is made up of approximately 75 grade six students who reside in Sydney, Nova Scotia. The purpose of this group is to encourage other adolescents to discuss and explore their experiences and beliefs revolving around substance abuse. The moto of this group is, "I can say no to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, violence, racism, and peer pressure.
Over 2000 students across Cape Breton have been encouraged to make a pledge agreeing to sustain from using drugs and alcohol for the next six years. This community of students has established a number of goals and objectives. The first is aimed at developing a positive self esteem. The group also encourages the development strong decision making skills among their peers. A strong sense of responsibility is fostered in this group dynamic. In addition, the empowering and strengthening of the students' ability to deal with peer pressure and also development of strong communication skills is an objective of The Youth Speaks-Up Program.
The Cape Breton Post published an article on May 5, 2004 entitled Youth Speaks Up hears stories of addiction. This article explains that two men who suffer with alcohol and drug addictions, both of whom have been residents of Frenchvale's Talbot House, came to speak to a group of students about the problems they have faced while dealing with substance abuse. The principal of Mira Road Elementary School was quoted as saying, "This seems to make a greater impact to have a resident here to talk about their life rather than bringing a speaker into the Delta Sydney, I think" (Cape Breton Post, 2004).
It could be argued that the impact on the students would be greater when the speaker is talking about his or her own life experiences as compared to when the speaker is discussing topics they have only read about. The courage shown by these two men after coming to the elementary school and sharing their life experiences helps others to understand the real meaning of community. Although the Webster's dictionary defines community as "a social group whose members reside in the same locality," it seems to leave out some aspects of what community is really about.
This definition fails to mention that a community includes individuals who share commonalities. The community in the above mentioned article includes individuals, who are of different ages, come from different backgrounds, and who have had very different experiences, but who have been brought together by a common goal: fighting substance abuse. These men were willing to reveal to the public that they had an addiction, knowing that they could have been ridiculed, in an attempt to reach others and perhaps prevent these adolescents from following in the same path.
Although no information in regard to successfulness of this program could be found at this time, it stands to reason that when youth are given guidance and support by other youth, the program has the potential to have a strong impact. The very fact that the Youth Speaks-Up program has been in operation for seven years and that over 2000 local students have been involved and potentially helped by this program speaks volumes in regard to its success.