Vt. tops in young alcohol rates, 2nd in marijuana

Posted Aug. 03, 2011, at 9:56 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 04, 2011, at 5:12 a.m.

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. — A new federal report says Vermont leads the nation in the rate of young people who drink alcohol and is second in the country for youthful marijuana use.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that New Hampshire ranked second in youthful alcohol abuse and eighth in marijuana use.

The survey found that more than a third of people between the ages of 12 and 20 in Vermont and New Hampshire had consumed alcohol in the past month. About a quarter of them had consumed at least five drinks on the same occasion, meeting the definition of binging.

The Valley News says the lowest rate was in Utah, where only 14 percent of young people drank in the past month.

“We are concerned,” said Barbara Cimaglio, deputy commissioner of the alcohol and drug abuse programs for the Vermont Department of Health. “We know there is a challenge in front of us.”

On marijuana, the study found that 11 percent of Vermonters and 10 percent of New Hampshire residents had used marijuana in the past month, but that higher percentages of young people had done so. More than 30 percent of Vermont 18-to-25-year-olds reported smoking marijuana recently. The number was 27 percent in New Hampshire.

“It’s a time of experimentation and exploring what does it mean to be an adult,” Cimaglio said. “I think that comes with testing out a lot of risky behavior.” Theories abound as to why alcohol and marijuana use are so prevalent in this region, Cimaglio said. Among the theories: the states’ geography as a corridor between Montreal and Boston, a permissive culture and long, cold winter s that limit other types of entertainment.

Robert Bryant, program director at Second Growth, a non-profit social-service agency in White River Junction, cited what he called cultural acceptance. “It’s become part of the fabric of the community that using, for the adult population, is acceptable behavior.”

Drinking and marijuana use are accepted as normal, every-day behavior among many adults in this region, he said, and those messages trickle down to kids.

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