Drinking decline: Utah named lowest underage drinking state in new study

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Results from a national survey on drug use and health released yesterday indicate that Utah has the lowest incidence of underage drinking in the nation. The study compiled hundreds of thousands of anonymous responses from Utahns 12-20 years old and concluded that 14.3 percent of participants had consumed alcohol in the previous month.

That may seem to be a shocking statistic at first, but when compared with Vermont at 37 percent and the national average of 26 percent, Utah appears to be making good progress.

Organizations like Parents Empowered are teaming up with federal and state government health agencies to promote awareness and education for parents and their teenagers. The state of Utah spends an average of $300,000 per year to fund programs that prevent teenage alcoholism and other risky behaviors.

Dr. Stephen Bahr of the BYU Sociology Department recently conducted his own study about underage drinking and what can be done to prevent it. “There’s no question, (based) on the research that I’ve done, that religious practice and affiliation makes a difference … and of course if the family doesn’t have alcohol in the home and the friends are the same way,” Bahr said.

Other child development experts agree that by fostering a healthy relationship of trust and open communication with their children, parents can avoid losing them to the dangers of addiction. Concerned parents should always know where their children are, who they are hanging out with, and be involved in extracurricular activities, family science researchers say.

Overall, the new study is encouraging to Utah parents. “To me as a parent, it makes me feel like we’re doing something right. We’re talking to our kids … and listening,” said Carolyn Andrews, a Provo mother of three teenagers. “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” Andrews said.

Representatives from the Utah division of substance abuse and mental health say that although the 14.3 percent figure is encouraging, it’s not low enough. Government agencies and private organizations will continue to work together to keep the incidence of underage drinking in Utah on the decline.

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