Sixty-five percent of 18- to 20-year-olds within a nine-city radius are not current alcohol users, according to a study conducted by Partnership for Change.
The substance abuse prevention coalition led by North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale recently conducted the Young Adult Alcohol Survey along with 10 other Minnesota communities as part of a state-sponsored project.
The survey effort was led by the Department of Human Services and consisted of a list of questions covering attitudes and perceptions young adults have towards alcohol use and about how much they think people are at risk harming themselves from certain behaviors.
Partnership for Change participated in the survey because it wanted to know more about what choices young adults ages 18-25 were making regarding alcohol and to better understand influences on their behavior, said Sheila Nesbitt, coalition coordinator.
In April and July 2012, the coalition mailed out 10-page surveys to 2,400 addresses in Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Crystal, Golden Valley, Maple Grove, New Hope, Osseo, Plymouth and Robbinsdale where they believed it was likely that a young adult lived.
“This population is mobile and we know that a large number of surveys didn’t necessarily reach a person in the right age group, so we don’t know how many received the survey,” Nesbitt said.
Partnership for Change received 297 completed surveys that Nesbitt said took respondents about 10 minutes to complete and included multiple choice questions regarding the surveyors own alcohol use, perceptions of what is common in the communities and what may have happened as a result of alcohol use. There were also open-ended responses where the young adult could list how many drinks they consumed on a single occasion.
“We are very pleased with the response rate,” she said. “They are a difficult population to find and complete a survey, so we are happy with the response.”
Of the completed surveys, results showed that in the last month, 65 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds did not drink alcohol at all.
Compared with the other communities that also conducted the survey, alcohol use in northwest Hennepin County tends to be lower. Fewer of the Partnership for Change respondents, 35 percent of young adults, are current alcohol drinkers compared to the 41 percent overall.
The study also found that fewer 18- to 25-year-olds who are enrolled in school full-time use alcohol or binge drink, which the coalition listed as five or more drinks in one sitting, compared to the overall groups surveyed in Minnesota.
“We don’t know the reasons why, we are just glad they are making good choices,” Nesbitt said on why Hennepin County may youth drink less. “We have vibrant communities here and we are glad that this is helping our young adults make good choices.”
While there were a number of positive findings, survey results also showed that 52 percent of 21 to 25-year-olds reported having engaged in binge drinking.
“That’s quite concerning,” Nesbitt said. “Of those, 17 percent admitted to having 11 drinks or more in one sitting. We know that is very high-risk and very dangerous drinking.”
With this new knowledge, Nesbitt said that the coalition will be looking at what it can do to prevent people from consuming alcohol in high-risk ways.
“In particular with young adults, drinking is related to job loss, high risk sexual activity, physical injuries and dropping out of school,” she said. “When they are enjoying the freedoms of adulthood, we want them to make smart decisions in alcohol use, not decisions that will haunt them.”
Nesbitt said Partnership for Change will share its findings with law enforcement and school officials and focus on the connections with binge drinking and drunk driving. They will again conduct the Young Adult Alcohol Survey in 2014.
“We know that our communities, including law enforcement, businesses and other adults, really do influence behavior,” she said. “We can do a lot of influence on the decisions the youth make and we want to make influences as healthy and positive as they can be. We also know that people have misconceptions of common behavior and young adults overestimate how many of their peers are drinking and they believe that it is normal behavior.”
With the data Partnership for Change has compiled, it will focus efforts on a project with law enforcement officers to pinpoint where young adults are drinking before they are involved in assaults, binge drinking and DUIs.
“We are really excited to be able to this and expand our prevention to look at this young population,” she said. “Prevention efforts tend to rely on youth living at home with their parents. We want to reach those young adults who may be getting a job, going off to college or getting an apartment on their own. We have messages for them and we have communities that will support healthy decisions.”
Contact Anna Woodwick at [email protected]