Report: North Dakota teen drinking on decline
FARGO - Alcohol use among high school students in North Dakota and Minnesota has dropped dramatically in the last two decades, surveys show. "I think the message has gotten out" to young people through health classes, parents, media and churches,...
FARGO - Alcohol use among high school students in North Dakota and Minnesota has dropped dramatically in the last two decades, surveys show.
"I think the message has gotten out" to young people through health classes, parents, media and churches, that alcohol abuse has serious consequences, says Ron Schneider, a counselor for the Fargo School District. "They're listening."
Scott Matheson, student assistance counselor and Students Against Destructive Decisions adviser at Moorhead High School, agrees.
"I think over the last 10 years in particular, the message is getting out there," he said. "We have a higher percentage of students than ever before who are reporting no use during their high school careers."
In North Dakota, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey reports that:
• In 1995, 60.7 percent of North Dakota high school students said they had at least one drink of alcohol in the past 30 days. In 2011, that had dipped to 38.8 percent.
• Binge drinking by high school students is nearly halved. In 1995, 46.2 percent of students surveyed said they had binge drank (drinking five or more alcoholic beverages within a couple of hours) in the past 30 days. By 2011, the percentage of those who said they had been binge drinking was 25.6 percent.
The Minnesota Student Survey is structured differently, but also shows stark behavioral changes.
• In 2010, 55.3 percent of Minnesota high school seniors used alcohol at least once in the past year. That is down from 79.9 percent in 1992.
• Frequent drinking, 20 or more times in the past year, also declined. In 2010, 13 percent of seniors said they drank that often, compared with a peak of 24.4 percent in 1998.
• In 2010, 23.4 percent of high school seniors reported binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row) within the past two weeks, compared with a peak of 33.6 percent in 1995.
Fargo and West Fargo
Fargo and West Fargo survey results largely mirror those seen at the state level:
• In Fargo, alcohol use within 30 days among the School District's high school seniors surveyed plunged in the last decade.
In 2001, 60.2 percent of Fargo's high school seniors had been drinking within the last 30 days. That dropped to 42.9 percent in the 2011 survey.
At West Fargo High School, in 2007 40.5 percent of students surveyed drank in the last 30 days. That dipped to 31 percent on 2011.
• The numbers of those saying they had been binge drinking in the last 30 days also declined, but not as precipitously. In 2001, 44.3 percent of Fargo's high school seniors reported having five or more drinks in one sitting. By 2011, that had drifted down to 32.3 percent.
In 2007, 27.4 percent of West Fargo High School students reported binge drinking. By 2011, that had dipped to 21.5 percent.
West Fargo seniors Tyler Laufenberg and Nick Sistad wonder if the alcohol use figures are understated.
"I hear plenty of stories," Laufenberg said.
"I'd say it's pretty often," Sistad said of alcohol use by his peers. Though, "I don't hear much about binge drinking," he added.
Aaron Podoll, a senior at Fargo's North High School, said the wording of the questions and the time of year the Youth Risk Behavior Survey is given may invite some to hide their alcohol use.
"I really think it depends a lot on the time of year. In the winter, there are not as many parties going on. But in the fall and the summer, I feel like it's probably a lot more than that," Podoll said.
"They're not doing it right now, but ask them again in the summer, and it would be a whole different story," he said. "I feel like that's pretty high. I would say it's definitely higher in the summer and the fall."
At Moorhead High School, the survey is given every three years, rather than every two years as in North Dakota.
The questions are worded differently from the North Dakota survey and broken down between male and female respondents, which affects the data and makes true "apples-to-apples" comparisons difficult.
Phrasing of questions over the years appears to have changed, too, which also affects the results.
• Among high school seniors surveyed in 2010, 37 percent of males and 24 percent of females reported drinking at least once in the last 30 days.
Historic data supplied by the district said that in 2001, 70.5 percent of seniors had reported drinking within the past year.
• In 2010, 18 percent of senior males and 15 percent of females said that in the last two weeks they had been binge drinking.
In 2001, 25 percent of seniors said they had been binge drinking in the last year, district figures show.
• 2010 data indicate that frequent binge drinking is practiced more by males than females among Moorhead seniors surveyed, with 12 percent of males and 5 percent of females saying they had been binge drinking 10 or more times in the past year.
Lucia Smith, a junior at Moorhead High, is a member of the school's SADD chapter.
She said many of her peers form their attitudes about alcohol from television and movies.
"I think it's kind of a social norm. It's like, 'you find true love in the bar,' " she said.
"It happens so often" in movies and television. "I think there's a big emphasis on partying and happiness plus drinking," Smith said.
Pot replacing booze?
Laufenberg, Sistad, Podoll and Smith all say it appears marijuana use is on the rise.
"It's easier to get than alcohol," Laufenberg said.
And marijuana is viewed as a drug that offers the user more control when they're high than alcohol.
"Fifty percent of people don't think marijuana's bad for you. It's like, really?" Smith said.
National and Minnesota statistics appear to back up that perception.
In 2010, 30.6 percent of Minnesota's high school seniors reported using marijuana in the past year. That's down slightly from the peak of 31.4 percent in 1998 and 2001, but significantly higher than the 21.8 percent reported in 1992, according to a Minnesota Student Survey trend study.
"A large percent of our students are starting to view marijuana the same way they do alcohol," Moorhead counselor Mathison said.
"It's become almost synonymous with alcohol rather than an illegal drug," Mathison said. "That's concerning to all of us."
Nationally, marijuana use has increased over the years. In 1991, 14.7 percent of students polled in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey said they used marijuana in the last 30 days. That peaked at 26.7 percent in 1999, before dropping to 20.8 percent in 2009.
Schneider, however, has doubts about the idea of marijuana displacing alcohol among teens.
He, too, thought more young people would say they were smoking pot, but Fargo and West Fargo data indicates usage is basically flat.
Fargo seniors reporting they had used marijuana in the last 30 days dropped from 32.1 percent in 2001 to 26.8 percent in 2011.
In 2009, 27.3 percent said they smoked pot in the last 30 days, not a significant change, Schneider said.
West Fargo data show that in 2011, 16.7 percent of that district's high-schoolers had smoked pot in the last 30 days. That number was 16.1 percent in 2007.
Perceptions may be clouding the reality, Schneider said.
"Everybody's not doing it. Lots of kids are making healthy choices," he said.
And the decline in alcohol use is real and welcome, Schneider said.
"That's cool. Somehow, someplace, some way, the message is getting out there," he said.
The article is from The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. The Forum and the Herald are both Forum Communications Co. newspapers