While some of the statistical improvements are incremental, Newtown Prevention Council Co-Chair Judy Blanchard took the opportunity during National Alcohol Awareness Month to review specific results from the latest local survey of youth related to alcohol consumption, availability, and prevailing attitudes toward drinking.
Alcohol Awareness Month, held every April since 1987, was founded by and has been sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc (NCADD) to increase public awareness and understanding aimed at reducing the stigma associated with alcoholism that too often prevents individuals and families from seeking help.
For the 27th anniversary of NCADD Alcohol Awareness Month, NCADD has chosen the theme “Help for Today. Hope For Tomorrow.” That theme is designed to draw attention to the pervasive impact that alcohol, alcohol-related problems, and alcoholism have on young people, their friends, on families, and in local communities.
More than 18 million individuals, or 8.5 percent of Americans, suffer from alcohol-use disorders. In addition, there are countless millions of individuals, family members, and children who experience the devastating effects of the alcohol problem of someone in their life.
In addition, one in four US children have been exposed to alcohol-use disorders in their family, according to the NCADD.
The economic cost of alcoholism and alcohol abuse has recently been estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be $223.5 billion ($746 per person) or about $1.90 per drink.
Researchers found the costs largely resulted from losses in workplace productivity (72 percent), health care expenses for problems caused by excessive drinking (11 percent), law enforcement and other criminal justice expenses related to excessive alcohol consumption (9 percent), and motor vehicle crash costs from impaired driving (6 percent).
Locally, the 2013 Youth Survey Report sponsored by the Newtown Prevention Council and Newtown Public Schools is conducted under the Drug-Free Communities Support Program grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. It is designed to ascertain prevalence, attitudes, and behaviors related to use of substances (tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs).
Analyzing The Stats
Ms Blanchard, who is also the district health coordinator for Newtown Public Schools, says success in reducing underage drinking in Newtown is confirmed by several facts.
The latest survey shows reported lifetime and 30-day alcohol use by Newtown middle school youth in grades 7–8 has remained less than national prevalence, and has steadily declined since 2002. And among Newtown high school youth, grades 9–12, drinking was above national averages early in the 2000s, but is now at or below national levels.
The ease with which youth can obtain alcohol has decreased, 2009 to 2013, and is similar to national experience, and fewer Newtown youth report in 2013 that “most” of their close friends drink.
Figures for the perception that regular alcohol use carries little or no risk of harm have remained under 10 percent for all Newtown youth. And adult modeling of alcohol consumption appears to have improved in Newtown, especially among high school youth, who report fewer alcohol-related problems in their families.
Responses to the question, ”How many of your close friends drink beer, wine, wine coolers, or hard liquor?” show relatively constant levels from 2002 to 2009, but decreases in 2011 among peers of youth in grades 9–12 have continued in 2013.
However, the survey question that asked, “If you wanted to, how easy would it be for you to get beer, wine, wine coolers, or hard liquor?” showed the percentage answering “very easy” or “sort of easy” increased among all youth between 2007 and 2009 (when the survey format was changed), but has been decreasing or remaining constant in Newtown since 2009.
Nationally, access has been steadily decreasing among all youth since 2002. Current levels of access in Newtown are similar to national figures.
Specific Trends Noted
The survey asked, “How much do you think people about your age risk harming themselves (physically or in other ways) if they take one or two drinks of an alcoholic beverage (beer, wine, or liquor) every day?” Four levels of response were allowed: none, very little, some, and a lot.
Youth in grades 7-12 responded similarly, and there are no consistent trends in perceptions. This question is a “core measure,” with lower perception of risk generally correlated with higher prevalence of drinking, Ms Blanchard explained.
The question was asked, “Has anyone in your family (such as a parent, brother or sister, not including you) ever used alcohol so that it created problems at home, at work, or with friends?” The percentage of “Yes” responses for youth in grades 11-12 was constant from 2005 to 2011, and decreased in 2013.
For other youth, excessive family drinking continued to decrease in 2013.
Ms Blanchard also pointed out that Newtown stats differ somewhat than the recent state report on teen drinking because Newtown’s survey asks question a bit differently with a grade versus age breakdown.
“If you correlate grades 7-8 with ages 12-14, Newtown’s past month or 30-day usage and binge use of more than three drinks are well below state reports at 3.6 percent and zero percent respectively,” Ms Blanchard said.
Rather than ages 15-17 designated in the state survey, Newtown reports by grades 9-10 and 11-12.
“Most surveys do not include the senior year, which tends to skew our comparisons because of the higher use of this grade, but we have felt that this is important data to gather for a complete picture of use,” she added. “Our grade 9-10 use for past 30 use is 16.8 percent and binge [more than three drinks] is 5.7 percent. Both of these are very significantly below state reports, but our grade 11-12 numbers are higher than state reports at 35.1 percent for past 30 day use and 26.3 percent for binge use.
“More importantly, if you look at these statistics for Newtown over the past ten years, we have seen a steady and significant reduction in use over time,” Ms Blanchard said. “A comparison of 2005 data to 2013 data shows very significant reductions. Also important to note is that the numbers reflect only the percentage of those students who report lifetime drinking, not the whole survey sample. We do not survey the entire student body, but a generous representative sample.”
Ms Blanchard said she has great trepidation reporting individual survey results because they can be misinterpreted, so Newtown releases a summary report.