Survey reveals youth risk behavior

What do the states of South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana share besides regional proximity and generally harsh winters?

Submitted photo
Hettinger County Sheriff’s Department Staff, from left: Deputy Josh Bullinger, Deputy Ryan Kaul, Sheriff Sarah Warner, Chief Deputy Josh Monson and Deputy Brian Eaton.

By Eddie Hibbs III

Pioneer Publisher & Editor

Posted Sept. 28, 2012

What do the states of South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana share besides regional proximity and generally harsh winters? The three states rank second through fourth nationally in binge drinking by teenagers.

Hettinger County Sheriff Sarah Warner reports that underage drinking is a problem in the county and most of it is not reported to authorities.

A press release issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – called the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance study – reviewed unhealthy behavior among high school students. According to the report, more than a third of high school students had consumed alcohol and more than one in five reported having engaged in binge drinking within the previous 30 days.

Arizona was ranked the top state on the list with 26.5 percent of high school students claiming to have participated in binge drinking. According to the same report, Arizona students ranked 11th in the number of students who drove after drinking alcohol (9.3 percent). Arizona also ranks in the top 10 for the percentage of high school students who have reported the use of methamphetamines (sixth), inhalants (sixth) and heroin (eighth).

Following Arizona on the list was South Dakota with 26.2 surveyed teens reporting drinking at least five drinks in a row within a few hours in the previous 30 days. South Dakota ranks fifth nationally in the percentage of teens driving after drinking. The Underage Drinking Enforcement Training Center estimates that underage drinking costs the state $300 million a year – an average of $3,436 a year per youth.

In addition to a serious drinking problem for teens, South Dakota also has major issues with tobacco use by teens. Nearly one-fourth (23 percent) of South Dakota high school students smoke compared to the national average of 17.4 percent.

Arizona and South Dakota also share another serious trait among teenagers within their borders. Arizona ranked second in the report for attempted suicides by teenagers while South Dakota ranked third. In Arizona, 18.7 percent of high school students seriously considered attempting suicide.

North Dakota was third in the nation in the percentage of teens who binge drink at 25.6 percent. The Peace Garden State, though, was tied for the nation’s highest percentage of teens driving after drinking alcohol (11.7 percent) – the same as Wyoming (which was ranked fifth nationally in underage binge drinking). Both North Dakota and Wyoming teens driving after drinking is 43 percent more than the national average (8.2 percent). In the past 10 years, according to the CDC’s report, incidence of underage drinking in North Dakota has increased 20.9 percent.

Bowman Chief of Police Charles “Chuck” Headley said the teenage drinking problem wasn’t limited to the bigger cities, either.

“From my experience here, even though I’m not a lifer (he moved to Bowman in 2008) and there is no scientific basis, underage drinking is somewhat accepted here,” Headley said. “It is almost a rite of passage for some. Some of the adults (parents) do not think it is a big deal. I wish that wasn’t the case, but there is some of that which rings true.”

Headley added that communities such as Baker, Hettinger, New England and Bowman have the same underage drinking problems as do the bigger communities, if not more of a problem.

“I have more concerns about alcohol use then drug use (among the teenagers), even though alcohol is a drug,” the police chief added.

Headley also added that many of the calls the Bowman Police Department receives are alcohol related besides DUIs. He said that most of all the fights and disturbances local law enforcement agents respond involve alcohol.

“It’s not just drunk driving or kids having parties,” Headley said.

Like its Dakota state sisters, Montana ranks high on the list for both binge drinking (fourth highest at 25.2 percent) and teens driving after drinking alcohol (sixth highest at 10.6 percent). Montana also ranks as having the second-highest percentage of students who have ever consumed alcohol. Montana’s youth also rank in the top five for students who have ridden with a driver who has been drinking. Montana also ranks as the third-highest percentage of traffic fatalities involving alcohol – almost twice the national average. On average, the state spends more than $2,500 per youth on underage drinking costs.

The CDC report also examined pre-teen alcohol use. In the survey, students were asked if the drank alcohol before age 13. The results follow:

• While Arizona had the highest binge drinking for teenagers, it had the 13th highest percentage (21.3 percent) of students reporting they drank alcohol before age 13.

• South Dakota reported 19 percent of students having a drink before the age of 13, ranking the state 21st on the list.

• North Dakota ranked 32nd on the list of pre-teens trying alcohol with 16.7 percent.

• Montana had the 12th highest percentage of pre-teen alcohol use at 21.4 percent.

• Wyoming had the seventh highest of pre-teen alcohol use at 23.5 percent.

• New Hampshire, which was tied at sixth in binge drinking by teenagers at 23.8 percent, had the second lowest percentage of pre-teen drinking at 14.3 percent.

• Similar to New Hampshire, New Jersey was tied at eighth in teen binge drinking at 23.7 percent, but had the third lowest percentage of pre-teen drinking a 14.4 percent.

“We have to change the persona that to have a good time, these teenagers have to get drunk to do it,” Headley said. “They can have a good time and not use alcohol or drugs. I have heard that excuse that there is ‘nothing else to do.’ There are things they can do that doesn’t cost money. We need to make it to where it isn’t socially acceptable

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