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Fewer teens drinking, but bingeing is on the increase

Alcohol use has declined slightly among young teens in the Fargo area, but binge drinking among those who do drink appears to be increasing, a Fargo School District expert says.

Alcohol use has declined slightly among young teens in the Fargo area, but binge drinking among those who do drink appears to be increasing, a Fargo School District expert says.

Fargo Youth Risk Behavior Survey results for 2009 show 73.5 percent of seventh- and eighth-graders said they had never drank, up from 68.8 percent in 2001, said Ron Schneider, a Fargo School District counselor who specializes in addiction issues.

But binge drinking - having five or more drinks in a couple of hours - is trending the wrong way, he said.

In 2001, 7.1 percent of the Fargo middle schoolers polled said they binge drank. In 2007, 12.8 percent said they did, Schneider said. The question was not asked in 2009.

"So there's a jump there," he said.


"The ones that are doing it (drinking), are maybe binge drinking more," he said.

It's a worrisome indicator for those who want to prevent incidents such as the one reported to West Fargo police last week. In that case, a 13-year-old girl was hospitalized after a drinking party.

Part of the problem may be mixed messages from adults about the acceptability of underage drinking, Schneider said.

In 2009, 70.8 percent of Fargo students surveyed for the Youth Risk Behavior Survey said they didn't think drinking among teens was seen as acceptable by their community, Schneider said.

That still left 9.5 percent who believed it is acceptable and 19.7 percent who were unsure.

"That's just about a third of the kids (who) don't know or think that we think it's OK," Schneider said. "We need to send a real clear message that it's not acceptable."

Prairie St. John's in Fargo regularly treats 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds, said Tonya Sorenson, an addiction counselor who works with adolescents at the center.

"A lot of kids can't even tell you how much they're consuming," Sorenson said. "They're just consuming to excess. They're just consuming to get drunk and to get intoxicated."


West Fargo police are still investigating the drinking party last Monday that resulted in the 13-year-old's hospitalization, Detective Sgt. Greg Warren said Friday.

Warren said the girl, who was treated and released from a local hospital, was unresponsive when found. The alcohol was "overtaking" her system, which can lead to respiratory and other health issues - even death, Warren said.

"These kids need to realize that when they consume large amounts of alcohol at their age, it can be pretty devastating," he said.

Officials say it's rare to get calls for children or young teens intoxicated to the point of needing treatment. West Fargo Assistant Police Chief Mike Reitan said his department gets a couple of calls a year from parents.

Sorenson said such cases may occur more often, but the children may not be brought in for treatment because their families may not feel they can afford it.

In 2007, the Metro Youth Partnership released the results of a Search Institute poll of Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo youth.

It found alcohol use rose markedly from sixth grade through 12th grade.

Six percent of sixth-graders had attended parties where others their age drank. That jumped to 39 percent for ninth-graders and 70 percent for 12th-graders, the survey said.


Schneider said he's heard of children starting to drink alcohol at age 8.

Nationwide, about two-thirds of 10th-graders and 40 percent of eighth-graders used alcohol, a report to the 2009 Minnesota Legislature showed.

The same report stated binge drinking within a month of the survey jumps from about 1 percent for 13-year-olds to 50 percent for 21-year-olds.

A 2007 Surgeon General's "Call to Action to Reduce and Prevent Underage Drinking" report said 5,000 people under age 21 die annually from injuries cased by drinking, including 1,900 deaths from motor vehicle crashes, 1,600 homicides and 300 suicides.

The National Longitudinal Epidemiological Alcohol Study found that of the 43,000 people taking part, 40 percent of those who started drinking at age 15 or earlier became alcoholics, compared with 10 percent who started drinking at ages 21 or 22.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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