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Progress on binge drinking

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North Dakotans should not cheer too loudly about the decline in youth binge drinking, as reported last week by the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The rate fell from 41.5 percent in 2001 to 21.9 percent last year. That’s a significant decline, but it still puts North Dakota kids slightly ahead of the national average.

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Progress certainly has been made. It can be attributed to many factors, among them better education about the health risks of alcohol abuse, tougher DUI laws and better enforcement of the laws, news of deaths of young binge drinkers, and possibly a small shift in cultural attitudes about the use and misuse of alcoholic beverages.

Nonetheless, the lower rate still means 1 in 5 North Dakota teenagers (defined by grades 9-12) is binging. Binge drinking is the extreme, but underage drinking not defined as binge likely still is just short of crisis proportions. The widespread acceptance of underage drinking has been a fixture of North Dakota life for generations, and dislodging that destructive tradition anytime soon is unlikely.

Alcoholic beverages are legal, and the industry has tried to do its part with “drink responsibly” campaigns. But the messages are contradictory when advertising for booze and beer stresses the more the merrier. Young people are susceptible to the barrage of ads that associates drinking with beach parties, beautiful people and good times.

The dark side of the picture features DUIs, deaths from alcohol poisoning and auto crashes, an epidemic of date rape, the risk of chronic alcoholism, and the certainty of alcohol-related illness. Those realities will not be showcased in alcoholic beverage advertising.

Public education and legislative action (like the tougher DUI law passed in 2013 by the Legislature) make a difference. The decline in binge drinking can be attributed in part to those efforts. They must continue and, where effectiveness can be demonstrated, ramped up.

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