Evaluating Substance Abuse Programs

By Brademas, D. James | Parks & Recreation, March 1994 | Go to article overview

Evaluating Substance Abuse Programs


Brademas, D. James, Parks & Recreation


The use of drugs by youth and adults in the United States has reached alarming proportions. The evidence of this problem's magnitude is presented almost daily in newspapers, magazines and professional writings. According to Lauro E Cavazos, former Secretary of Education, "The United States continues to have the highest rate of teenage drug use of any nation in the industrialized world." Tobacco, for example, is considered a "gateway drug" to substance abuse. Data from one county in Ohio indicated that in several high schools more than 70 percent of the students used tobacco products

Survey results on drug use released by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research showed that 33 percent of all high school seniors polled said they had taken at least one illicit drug during the past year; this is down from a peak of 54 percent in 1979. The U.S. Department of Education in 1989 reported that 92 percent of the students in the class of 1988 had used alcohol; 33 percent reported using marijuana and eight percent of the seniors indicated they had used cocaine.

There is little question about the seriousness of the substance problem in America affecting all levels of society and virtually all age groups. In examining the relationship between alcohol consumption and outdoor recreation activities, R. Young and S. Kronus found a positive relationship between drinking and the activities of fishing, hunting, camping and outdoor sports. M.E Stuck found that the popular notion of sport and clean living appeared to be a myth. His study showed that 50 percent of youth who participated in organized sports used beer occasionally or regularly, 28 percent used liquor and 48 percent used marijuana. Seventy-five percent of recreational participants used beer, 63 percent liquor and 54 percent marijuana. Use by non-participants was only slightly higher. S.E. Iso-Ahola and E.D. Crowley studied the leisure pursuits of two groups of children with a mean age of 16.6. They divided the children into two groups, substance abusers and non-substance abusers. They found that substance abusers had a tendency to be more active generally than non-substance abusers. Substance abusers participated more frequently in such physical recreation activities as football, baseball, gymnastics, skate, boarding and rollerskating.

Michael Corwin, Parks & Recreation editor, believed that young adults may become involved with drugs because of boredom, peer pressure and low self-esteem. He suggested that park and recreation professionals should offer solutions to this problem by providing meaningful activities and exposing children to peers who do not use alcohol and drugs. He also emphasized the importance of training recreational personnel in specific substance abuse program skills.

Viable Alternative to Substance Abuse

Robin Kunstler stated that, "If we recognize and accept what substance abusers are seeking, then perhaps therapeutic recreation can help them find a healthier, more long-lasting and more fulfilling means to achieve this, through recreation and leisure." O'Dea-Evans stated that, "Recreation is viewed by addiction specialists as a viable alternative to substance abuse in Illinois: prevention activities focus on alcohol and drug addiction, as well as leisure alternatives." Dwyer, Murrell, Wages and Lisco concentrate more on drug enforcement in parks. Their approach would be to target the producers, dealers and users. They suggest an entrapment strategy which raises some legal questions.

Some efforts are being made by various communities to combat the problem of substance abuse affecting young people. In Detroit a substance abuse recreation league emphasizes exercise as a means to emotional health. In Philadelphia, block parties were held in parks to disrupt drug dealers' activities. The Raleigh North Carolina Parks and Recreation Department has established goals for stopping the sale and use of drugs, including tree pruning and upgrading of lighting in areas of frequent drug use, family recreation programs and counseling. …

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