Friday, October 18, 2013

2013 Herkimer County TAP: Alcohol Use Among Teens

One of the basic areas we have covered in every Teen Assessment Project (TAP) survey has been alcohol use by teens. We begin by asking teens at what age did they first have more than a "few sips" of alcohol. They have the option, of course, to say that they have never had  a drink of alcohol other than possibly a few sips.

What we have found is that the percent of teens who ever have had a drink of alcohol has declined significantly over the years, especially since 2005.

Since 2005, the percent of teens who said that they have ever had a drink has dropped from 56% to around 34% - from more than half of all teens to just one third ! Clearly fewer teens are drinking while in high school than they were 15 years ago.

We also looked at the frequency of drinking among teens that do use alcohol. It's one thing to see fewer teens drinking, but the question of how often those that do imbibe use alcohol is also a concern. We examined only those teens that said that they have ever had a drink and asked them how often they have at least one drink. In particular we were interested in looking at what we loosely defined as "regular users" of alcohol. These were seen as anyone who said that they drank at least "a few times a month" or more often. Just as in the case of the percent of all teens that have ever had a drink, the percent of teen drinkers that are "regular users" of alcohol has declined significantly since 1997.

From the 52% of teen drinkers saying that they used alcohol at least a few times per month in 1997, to the 35% of teenage drinkers in 2013 saying that they use alcohol "regularly", this number has dropped considerably.

So it appears as though fewer teens are drinking, and those that do drink are drinking less often. That left us wondering about the age of introduction to alcohol among teen drinkers. When we look at the percent of teens drinkers that say that their first drink of alcohol was at age 12 or younger, we find that this, not surprisingly, has also seen significant decline over the years, and especially since 2005.

While nearly half of all teen drinkers (49%) said that they had had their first drink at age 12 or younger in 1997, that percentage had fallen off slightly to around 44% in 2005. Since then, however, the percent of teen drinkers who indicated that they had an early introduction to alcohol has dipped to only 30%. So not only are fewer teens drinking than in prior years, but those that are choosing to drink are waiting longer to have their first drink, and are drinking less frequently than in the past.

Finally, teenage binge drinking is an area of great concern among parents, community members and law enforcement. Binge drinking is generally considered to have occurred when someone has five (5) or more drinks within a two to three hour period. Generally speaking the percent of teen drinkers engaging in binge drinking has steadily declined since the Herkimer County TAP survey was first administered in 1997. From a high of 46% of drinkers saying that they had gone binge drinking in the last 30 days in 1997, to a low of 28% of teen drinkers who say that they had been binge drinking in the past 30 days in the 2013 survey, this percentage has dropped significantly.

If we look at binge drinking habits among males and females, you can see that in both cases their has been a steady decline in this type of activity regardless of gender. The only unusual piece of data is that females appear to not have changed their binge drinking behavior since the last survey was completed in 2009 - 25% of all female teen drinkers said that they had gone binge drinking in the last 30 days in both the 2009 and 2013 surveys.