Most people seem to agree: Young people are drinking significantly less than they have in decades past.
Why the lower rates? That's not so easy to discern.
UND students report having an average of 3.16 drinks per week, according to the 2018 North Dakota Student Wellness and Perception Survey, a voluntary survey of 4,174 UND students conducted last fall. That’s down from 5.39 drinks per week on average in 2008.
Among students younger than 21, that number is 2.55 drinks per week, down from 5.25 in 2008.
Bill Vasicek, a member of the Grand Forks Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition (SAPC) and a community safety coordinator with Altru Health System, said that amounts to a “significant” reduction.
And that trend extends beyond just underage high school students, he said. According to the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a survey developed by the Centers for Disease Control, upon which Vasicek says SAPC bases much of its education efforts, 27.6% of North Dakota high school students reported consuming alcohol within the past 30 days in 2019. In 2009, that number was 43.3%, and in 1995, the earliest year the survey was conducted, it was 60.7%.
That trend seems to mirror data collected by the Grand Forks Police Department and published in its 2018 annual report. In 2009, GFPD issued 581 citations for minor consumption or possession of alcohol. Last year, that number was 88.
Similarly, Grand Forks Police Lt. Derik Zimmel said loud and noisy parties -- where MIC and MIP violations often are issued -- also are down. In 2009, police responded to 340 reports of noisy parties. That number has declined steadily, and last year police responded to 38 loud party complaints.
There are a variety of theories on the new trend.
Danny Weigel, a UND police lieutenant and Grand Forks City Council member, credits increased education efforts by the university and also young people being generally more aware of the adverse effects of alcohol.
“Just because it’s going down, it doesn’t mean it’s not occurring,” Weigel said. “Obviously, there’s still some work to be done out there, but, obviously, it’s good that that’s the trend.”
Zimmel points out that the year before the police department began tracking data, police worked with city inspectors to enact a “three-strike” ordinance against landlords with noisy tenants. The most severe disciplinary action that could be taken on landlords who didn’t enforce the noise ordinance was that they could lose their certificate of occupancy.
“Multiple facets of local government came together and said, ‘we can work together to significantly impact this,’ and I think that’s it,” Zimmel said. “The results that you see, they’re very much a success story.”
Two local landlords are less sure the ordinance is to credit, though.
Derek Nolte, who owns TruHome Property Solutions in Grand Forks, said noisy party complaints have been steady but rare during his 13 years as a property manager. During that time, he has pursued lease termination with rowdy tenants twice, and said he would have done that whether or not the ordinance was in place.
Mike Opp, of Oxford Realty, agrees that his company’s level of enforcement hasn’t changed in the decade since the ordinance was passed. He said he believes that’s because landlords have nothing to do with how much alcohol their tenants consume.
“I think kids are just drinking less,” he said. “I think everybody knows that.”
At least one student, though, was surprised to hear that.
After reflecting for a moment, UND aviation student Yusuke Yokoe said he suspects that with all the events on campus, many students might feel too busy to drink.
“I used to drink, not much, but at least once a week or so,” said Yokoe, 21. “With those activities though, I don’t really have time to drink, and I don’t really have energy to drink.”
He said he hasn’t felt ostracized by his decision to stay sober. Elizabeth Reed, a 19-year-old pre-med student, agreed.
“My friends are cool with it,” she said. “They don’t really care.”
She said her decision not to drink came in part from working at Altru Health System, where she’s seen people become ill or die from alcohol poisoning. Still, she said her sobriety is a personal decision.
“I personally don’t drink, because I’m focused on school and stuff, and I know other people who do drink and are still focused on school,” she said.
Vasicek said that as a result of more young people choosing not to drink, the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition has seen fewer injuries in motor-vehicle accidents and fewer instances in alcohol poisoning. He said they’ve also seen a decrease in assaults, which he considers to be another positive side effect.
“And we all know that’s all a good thing,” Vasicek said. “But the numbers (associated with drinking and its effects) are still high enough where it’s considered a problem.”
Vasicek said he believes the reduction in underage drinking could come from the fact that alcohol consumption has become less normalized in media in recent years. He also added that parents are becoming more aware of how to be good role models when it comes to alcohol consumption.
“I think that conversation is getting better and more frequent,” he said.