Investigating Knowledge about Substance-Abuse and Available Treatments Among Youth in Adams County

Mission Statement: Youth Coalition

In our research, we were interested in answering the question: How do youth conceive of and negotiate access to substance abuse treatment services in Adams County?  We attempted to answer this question using in-depth interviews with youth who live throughout Adams County.  There were two groups of youth that were interviewed, some from the CFY Youth Coalition and others from an Independent Living program in Adams County.  We also conducted participant observation with the Youth Coalition when we both observed and contributed in one of their monthly meetings.  All of the data collected was then analyzed for major themes pertaining to our research question and for possible resolutions to the issue of access to substance abuse treatment in the Adams County area.

Adams County Courthouse


During the course of our interviews, we found several themes, three of which were mentioned by almost every interviewee. First, our participants strongly emphasized boredom and lack of recreational space as major negative aspects of living in this area. They cited trouble with transportation, and lack of income, as reasons for not spending more time at the venues that exist currently. Several participants directly related lack of activities to curiosity about drugs and alcohol, and the tendency to have parties and participate in illegal activities for recreational purposes.

The second prominent theme involved youth perceptions of being “at-risk” for addiction and of consequences of substance abuse. Participants repeatedly suggested that drug and alcohol use by local students was very “normal” and that it “wasn’t a big deal”. This affected their perception of health and need for treatment. One of our interviewees reiterated this fact by saying that she did not think that her peers who were involved with drugs want help because they don’t see it as a problem.  Instead it is something that is more of pastime that they can stop on their own, whenever they want to or as soon as it becomes an ‘actual problem.’  One participant noted that their actions go unnoticed and consequences are unenforced by adults: they do not see things such as attending classes while under the influence of drugs as a problem or an abnormal behavior. We concluded that the perception of  “low” health risks and consequences associated with these behaviors is one reason youth are not receiving counseling or treatment services.

Finally, our participants explained that the most prominent barrier to receiving treatment services, aside from their own lack of motivation to seek help, was that few people their age are aware of available services. When asked where they thought youth could go to get help for an addiction, for example, they often said “I don’t know” or “Maybe the school counselor”.

Questions our research generated:

-What kind of recreational opportunities would be most appealing to youth?

-Would focus groups or large-scale studies of local youth generate more insight into these issues?

-What would be some specific ways to effectively “spread the word” about services that are available, and information regarding treatment options for youth seeking substance abuse help (i.e. The age of consent in Pennsylvania, cost of specific programs, etc.).

-What are the actual school policies regarding substance use and treatment/counseling services, and how do school officials and administrators perceive of the problems highlighted by our participants?

How our project speaks to broader issues in Medical Anthropology:

One of our noted themes – youth perception of being “at-risk” – is directly related to our course focus on perceptions of health in general. We recognized through our study that youth and adults (both locally and in our research) perceive of their bodies and health choices in different ways. This can lead to a breakdown in communication between groups as to what proper treatment (and advertisement of treatment options) looks like. If youth are thinking one way, and adults are thinking another, the true needs of youth who are “at-risk” for addiction can be overlooked. We suggest that administrators of counseling and treatment services, as well as school officials, take youth perceptions of risk and addiction into more consideration in order to create more effective and relevant programs.

Authors: Danielle Berardinelli, Cynthia Downing, Tara Lord, Hannah Mikolajczyk

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