Time to “shatter the myths” on teen drug and alcohol use

Maha Liu
McK-UDOS Coalition
Published in
4 min readJan 24, 2018


Teens in McKinley Park, Chicago, use alcohol and marijuana at higher rates than the rest of the state.

According to localized data from the 2016 Illinois Youth Survey, eight percent of eighth graders reported binge drinking five or more alcoholic drinks in the past two weeks, compared with only 5.5 percent for the state of Illinois. Eleven percent of McKinley Park eighth graders reported using marijuana in the past month, compared with only 7.1 percent in the state.

Data from 2016 Illinois Youth Survey results for McKinley Park, Chicago

High schoolers see use of these substances as widespread — but they’re not. Almost 60 percent of high school students in McKinley Park believe that over half of their peers use alcohol and marijuana regularly. In reality, only about a quarter of students drank alcohol, and only 16 percent used marijuana in the past 30 days.

This perception regarding substance use can be dangerous. The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites serious social and health risks for teenage substance use, which include vulnerability to substance use disorders in adulthood, school failure, problems with family and other relationships, violence, risky sexual behaviors, loss of interest in normal healthy activities, and even the risk of overdose death.

Data from 2016 Illinois Youth Survey results for McKinley Park, Chicago

To “shatter the myths” surrounding drugs and alcohol, the McKinley Park Underage Drinking and Other Substances Prevention Coalition (McK-UDOS) is participating in National Drug and Alcohol Fact Week. This educational initiative, established by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 2010, counteracts myths surrounding alcohol and drugs that teens receive from the media, popular culture or from friends. As part of the national effort, McK-UDOS has launched a community awareness and education campaign that is linguistically competent for Spanish- and Chinese-speaking households in McKinley Park.

We can use all the resources we can get to address problems of substance abuse in this area,” said State Representative Theresa Mah, who is a member of the McK-UDOS coalition. “We welcome the coalition’s help and participation in community meetings and issues.”

Initiated by Latino and Asian social service organizations, McK-UDOS seeks to prevent underage drinking and marijuana use among teens in McKinley Park, with a focus on Hispanic American and Asian American teens.

To successfully reach the community’s large Hispanic and Chinese American audiences, the coalition has released flyers in English, Mandarin, and Spanish. The flyers bring awareness about the dangers of marijuana and alcohol, give tips on talking to children about substance use and share information about the social host law in Illinois, which holds adults responsible for underage drinking. These multilingual flyers allow the campaign to reach parents who do not speak English as their first language.

Translated versions of the flyers in Chinese, Spanish and English

“Talking about drugs and alcohol to children can be very challenging, and a language barrier can exacerbate the situation,” said Vernalynne De La Rosa, the Substance Abuse Prevention Program Coordinator of McK-UDOS.

Parents who only speak one language can struggle to communicate clearly with children who do not understand the language, which may prevent them from even attempting to talk about the issue.

In McKinley Park, the issue of a language barrier may be heightened, even compared to the rest of the city of Chicago. According to the 2015 American Community Survey, more than one-third of residents in the neighborhood were born outside of the U.S. Eighteen percent live in socially and linguistically isolated households, in which all members age 14 and over have some difficulty with English. In comparison, only nine percent of households across the city are linguistically isolated.

To launch the community awareness and education campaign, McK-UDOS will place ads in Spanish- and Chinese-language newspapers and social media channels and pass out posters and flyers to display at schools, local businesses and throughout the community.

By Mira Wang, Program Intern, McK-UDOS Coalition

If you are located in McKinley Park and surrounding neighborhoods, please email Vernalynne De La Rosa, the program coordinator, to join, partner or support the McK-UDOS coalition.

We can provide any of the above materials in English, Spanish and Chinese, teach bi- or tri-lingual educational workshops with adults and youth, offer linguistically appropriate counseling services and any additional support.