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How Many High School Teens in Santa Barbara Use Drugs? Where Do They Get Them?


If you’re a Santa Barbara resident – a parent, teen, or a professional who works with adolescents – the current data on substance use among high school students in your area may be of interest.

The following information comes from the California Healthy Kids Survey. Officials administer the anonymous survey to every school district in California on an annual basis. The tables below show rates of substance use for high school students in Santa Barbara for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Summary Measures of Level of Alcohol OD Use and Perceptions
Grade 9th 10th 11th 12th  
Percent response % % % %  
Lifetime illicit AOD use to get “high” 25 30 41 40  
Lifetime alcohol or drug use 27 31 42 40  
Lifetime marijuana use 17 20 30 29  
Lifetime very drunk or high (7 or more times) 6 10 15 15  
Lifetime drinking and driving involvement 9 9 15 12  
Current alcohol or drug use 14 17 25 24  
Current marijuana use 10 12 17 17  
Current heavy drug use 6 8 10 11  
Current heavy alcohol use (binge drinking) 5 6 11 11  
Current alcohol or drug use on school property 6 6 6 7  
Harmfulness of occasional marijuana use 35 34 31 28  
Difficulty of obtaining marijuana§ 7 6 5 7  

Source: Santa Barbara Unified School District. California Healthy Kids Survey, 2018-19: Main Report. San Francisco: WestEd Health and Justice Program for the California Department of Education.

As you can see, high school juniors and seniors show the highest rates of substance use. An overwhelming 41 percent of 11th graders admit they’ve used alcohol or other drugs to get high, and 25 percent of all juniors report current alcohol and drug use. When it comes to seniors, more than 10 percent admit to engaging in current heavy drug use.

Elsewhere, the survey also asks how many times students in Santa Barbara have been “offered, sold, or given an illegal drug.” On average, 15.5 percent of high school students have experienced this at least once.

Where do High School Students Get Drugs?

The survey also asks students to report where most of their peers obtain alcohol and recreational drugs like marijuana. While most students chose “I don’t know” as their response, the data shows some interesting facts. More than 20 percent of students said that they can obtain marijuana at school, while 33 percent point to outside parties and events. It’s not a surprise that 36 percent of students say they obtain marijuana from friends or another teen. But perhaps most surprising is that 20 percent of students, on average, report they get marijuana from their own home.

Here’s the complete data:

 How do most students at your school who use marijuana, get it? (mark all that apply)        
 Source/Grade                                                                              9th 10th 11th 12th Total
At school 20 23 21 20 21
At parties or events outside school 26 34 37 36 33
At their own home 18 20 22 20 20
From adults at a friend’s home 16 18 18 17 17
From friends or another teenager 32 38 40 36 36
From a friend with a medical use card 13 18 24 23 19
From a stranger 17 16 17 17 17
Online 13 11 13 13 13
Grow it themselves 13 12 17 17 14
Other 9 9 8 8 9
I don’t know 62 60 56 55 59

Source: Santa Barbara Unified School District. California Healthy Kids Survey, 2018-19: Main Report. San Francisco: WestEd Health and Justice Program for the California Department of Education

Read the Report

We encourage parents, teachers, school administrators, therapists – anyone involved in the life of a Santa Barbara teen – to visit the California Healthy Kids Survey website and download the reports. The more you know about your community, the better you can help teens navigate the joys and challenges of adolescence.

What Parents in Santa Barbara Can Do

Based on the surveys above, there’s one thing we have to address first: the teens who get marijuana from home. Parents who use marijuana should keep it out of reach of children and teens – that’s the most basic level of protection they can offer their kids. Exposure to drugs like marijuana can have a negative, long-term impact on physical, emotional, and social development. That’s why keeping drugs away from your teenager is important.

Next, we urge parents to learn and understand the signs of drug use, misuse, and disordered use – which is the clinical term for addiction. While the signs of use vary for each type of drug, there are some signs that are common to all drugs. Also, it’s helpful to understand there are both physical and behavioral signs of drug use and drug addiction.

Here are some common physical signs of drug use, misuse, and disordered use:

  • Glassy, red eyes (marijuana or alcohol)
  • Smell of alcohol or marijuana on breath, hair, clothes, or belongings
  • Loss of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Unsteady gait (walking)
  • Sudden loss or gain of weight
  • Sudden changes in sleep patterns: too much or too little
  • Changes in eating: too much or too little

Here are some common behavioral signs of drug use, misuse, and disordered use:

Parents should know that many of these behavioral symptoms – such as moodiness, anxiety, or irritability – may also be signs of typical adolescent development. Teens may also change their peer group or change their relationship to personal hygiene, and those changes don’t prove drug use or misuse. However, when combined with physical signs and symptoms – for instance, if a parent notices glassy eyes and the smell of marijuana combined with an abrupt drop in grades – then those two facts together may indicate drug use.

Seeking Professional Support

Parents who think their teenager is at-risk of abusing drugs – or that recreational experimentation may lead to disordered use and/or addiction – should consider arranging an evaluation performed by a mental health professional. A full evaluation includes a drug screen, a psychological assessment, a diagnosis, if applicable, and recommendations for treatment, if applicable.

In some cases, simple and direct communication with a teenager can remedy the situation: teens don’t always understand the short- and long-term dangers of drug use. In other cases, a mental health professional may identify a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression, which may explain the drug use. Sometimes, however, a teenager may have developed a substance use disorder.

If an evaluation indicates a mental health disorder and/or a substance use disorder, the evaluating therapist will most likely recommend treatment. Depending on the severity of the disorder(s), they may recommend outpatient therapy, an intensive outpatient program (IOP), a partial hospitalization program (PHP), or a residential treatment center (RTC).

Treatment typically includes individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and experiential activities such as yoga and mindfulness to support therapy and help build a framework for a life free from alcohol or drug use.

Finally, it’s important for parents to understand that treatment for mental health and substance use disorders works. Millions of teenagers around the country – and the world – have entered treatment and learned to live a full life in recovery. It takes commitment, and it takes work – but it’s well worth the time and the effort.

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