Coalition tackles root causes of teen drinking

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After assessing and finalizing a problem statement, the Monroe County Coalition for Drug-Free Communities began analyzing root causes for the problem during its Monday meeting.

The problem statement,which is based on 2014 Illinois Youth Survey data the coalition received, is that 33 percent of Monroe County 12th graders reported binge drinking in the last two weeks.

This is above the state average of 30 percent for the same age group.

The reason the coalition is addressing this statistic first is because of the amount of dangerous activities alcohol leads to.

“Underage drinking is just the tip of the iceberg,” coalition co-founder Bill Rebholz said. “That’s a third of our local 12th graders (who are binge drinking). The data has taken us here.”

Alcohol consumption is up overall for Monroe County students, and they’re also starting to drink earlier than the rest of the state.

“Our kids start at age 15.9, but 16 is the stage average,” Rebholz said.

Twenty-five percent of 12th graders also reported driving under the influence, as opposed to 18 percent statewide.

Since drinking stood out clearly in the data as something to address, the coalition chose the binge-drinking statistic.

“Research has shown that kids who are drunk are more likely to experiment and engage in more risky behavior,” Rebholz said. “If we touch the issue on underage drinking, we’re also going to be able to address the use of marijuana, since we’re at or above the state average for that, as well.”

At Monday’s meeting, attendees came up with seven possible root causes for the 33 percent number.

They are: social norms, ease of access, peer pressure, constitutional issues, idle time, low perception of physical risk and family management.

“Social norms” were cited as a root cause, because many times parents or guardians allow teens to drink. Coalition members also said living in a historically German community has an effect on teen drinking.

Of the 12th graders surveyed, 31 percent said they got their beer, wine or liquor from parents with their permission.

“Ease of access” was another root cause cited. One of the statistics members used to back up this cause was that 82 percent of 12th graders reported that it would be easy for them to get alcohol.

“Peer pressure” was cited because many students reported that their friends think it’s “cool” to drink.

Thirty percent of 12th graders reported it would only be a little wrong to have one or two drinks of an alcoholic beverage nearly every day, with an additional 23 percent saying it wouldn’t be wrong at all.

“Constitutional factors” were cited because some people may have a predisposition to abuse substances due to conditions like anxiety or depression.

“Idle time” was cited because, as students get older, they are more likely to be unsupervised after school or on weekends.

“Perception of risk” is another reason because many students reported they don’t see much risk in drinking.

Forty-four percent of 12th graders reported they thought they would never get caught if they rode in a car with someone who had been drinking.

An additional 34 percent reported they would “never” get caught by their parents if they drank and drove, and that they wouldn’t get caught by their parents if they went to a party where alcohol is served.

Coalition members were able to address all but the last root cause, “family management,” before running out of time at the monthly meeting.

They plan to pick up where they left off at January’s meeting, which will take place at 4 p.m. on Jan. 5 at the YMCA.

“For us to get the traction and have the effect we hope to have, we need to just focus on this and work through it,” Rebholz said.

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