Study: Grand County has a drinking problem
Sky-Hi Daily News
(Editor’s note: The following article is the first of a three-part series on the problem of underage drinking in Grand County and the efforts to bring it under control.)
The use of alcohol by kids in eastern Grand County is well above the national average and the adults of this community are to blame.
That’s the conclusion of the Grand Futures Prevention Coalition which deals with youth substance abuse issues in Grand, Moffat and Routt counties. It has been working to find solutions to the problem in the local area since 1990.
“For a long time, we thought all we had to do is educate the kids to the danger of alcohol, drugs, tobacco,” said Deb Ruttenberg, the organization’s Grand County director.
“They already have a ton of information, but the problem is not getting much better. We now know we have to educate their parents and other adults to set the example for them.”
According to 2006 national statistics, binge drinking (five or more drinks of alcohol in a row over a two-week period) among students are: 25 percent for 12th graders, 21 percent for 10th graders and 11 percent among eighth graders. Among 12th graders, 45.3 percent drank alcohol once or more in a 30-day period.
In an April 2005 study by the Search Institute commissioned by the East Grand School District, 48 percent of 12th graders, 37 percent of 10th graders and 26 percent of eighth graders were binge drinkers.
In the same East Grand study, the statistics for alcohol use are similarly high with 65 percent of 12th graders, 63 percent of 10th graders and 44 percent of eighth graders reporting the use alcohol once or more over a 30-day period.
Ruttenberg pointed out that these East Grand School statistics are not only higher than the national area, but are also significantly above the state average. In a 2005 study of Colorado’s ninth to 12th grade students, 31 percent reported binge drinking over a 30-day period.
Colorado currently ranks sixth highest among the 50 states for the cost per youth in handling underage drinking cases.
Ruttenberg said Grand Future’s effort at education as well as the East Grand School District’s health education and other programs such as DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) are not having any major impact on the local problem.
“We’ve educated the kids through these programs, but they don’t think the bad things involved with alcohol abuse, drugs and smoking are going to happen to them,” Ruttenberg said.
She also rejected the old excuse used by locals that kids turn to alcohol and drugs because they have “nothing to do” living in Grand County’s small mountain communities. She pointed to all the school athletic and activity programs as well as the youth recreational programs offered by the local towns and organizations that are made available to local kids.
Instead of a lack of educational instruction or recreational opportunities, Ruttenberg said, some of the blame has to be placed in adult attitudes to alcohol in this area.
“It’s not a lack of things for kids to do, but a belief that everybody drinks alcohol around here so why shouldn’t I,” she said. “If kids see parents or other adults getting loaded, how can anybody think they are not getting the message that the only way to have a good time is to drink alcohol to excess?”
The problem is communitywide with the offering of alcohol being “the norm” at many public events, Ruttenberg explained. She pointed out that Grand County is ranked eighth among Colorado’s 63 counties for the number of liquor licenses per capita.
“To say the reason that there are so many is that this is a ski area does not fly,” she said. “Routt County actually has fewer liquor licenses than here.”
Ruttenberg said Grand County’s adults must “set the example” for children.
“Rather than sending kids a mixed message, parents and adults have to provide a good example for them by drinking responsibly,” she said. “Kids who see them getting drunk are more likely to drink and to drink to excess. It’s a no brainer.”
Rather than going to an extreme saying all alcohol use is “bad,” adults have to provide examples of what Ruttenberg described as “responsible” or “low-risk” drinking. That means one to two drinks a night for females and two to three drinks for a male.
“Low-risk drinking is having a glass of wine at dinner or a couple of beers. It’s not about getting drunk,” she said.
“It’s also important to have conversations with your kids. With kids, they may not always do what you say, but they are listening. Kids need firm boundaries.”
In addition to setting personal examples of responsible drinking, adults must also change a prevalent attitude toward what many consider as “permissible drinking” among teenagers. By that, Ruttenberg explained is the practice of “hosting” parties for teens where alcohol is provided or allowed.
“The rationale given by adults for hosting parties like that is to prevent kids from drinking and driving, so it’s OK for them to have alcohol,” Ruttenberg said. “We have to change that perception. If most people knew the risks, they’d be less likely to provide alcohol to teens.”
Besides the dangers of drinking-and-driving, the other risks associated with the use of alcohol by teenagers includes pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, suicides, participating in physically dangerous or criminal activities and alcohol poisoning.
Ruttenberg also pointed out that teenagers’ brains are still in a developmental stage of growth and can be damaged by alcohol use.
To help “educate” adults on the risks of providing alcohol to teenagers, the Grand County Underage Drinking Task Force was formed in recent months by a group of concerned community members and law enforcement officers. One of its goals is get the word out that there are penalties for those who break the law.
“The Task Force is distributing posters and stickers for its “Adults Who Host, Lose the Most” campaign,” Ruttenberg said. Under Colorado state law, adults providing alcohol to minors can be fined from $500 to $5,000 and be jailed for up to 18 months.
In addition, the Task Force has started the Underage Drinking Tipline where anonymous callers can report illegal alcohol use by minors. The number is 726-6001.
The Task Force is also supporting the local program to increase the number of employees who are trained in TIPS (Training for Intervention Procedures for Servers) to prevent alcohol from being served to underage customers of restaurants and other establishments.
For those interested in supporting the efforts of Grand Futures, the Underage Drinking Task Force and other local organizations working on the underage drinking problem in the county, a Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol (CMCA) seminar is scheduled for next week.
Sponsored by Kremmling Communities That Care, the CMCA seminar will be held Thursday and Friday, Nov. 8-9 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Kremmling. Everyone is invited to attend.
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