After years of decline, the number of 12th-grade students in Utah who say they have consumed alcohol in the past month made a noticeable increase in 2017, a state survey shows.
The 30-day alcohol use among high school seniors rose from 13.6 percent in 2015 to 14.7 percent in 2017, according to the Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) survey.
The questionnaire is given every two years to 50,000 students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades to measure underage drinking rates in Utah.
Binge drinking — consuming several drinks in a row — also increased slightly among Utah high school seniors, going from 8.1 percent in 2015 to 8.6 percent in 2017. Binge rates for sixth, eighth and 10th grades stayed steady or declined, according to the SHARP data.
The uptick in alcohol use “was not completely unexpected,” especially because Utah‘s rate of alcohol use is already so low, said Doug Murakami, director of Parents Empowered, the alcohol education program for the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC). "But it does mean we have more to do."
While the increases are worth noting, they shouldn’t be cause for alarm, Murakami said during a presentation to the state liquor commission Tuesday. “Despite this increase, we are considerably lower than (2003) when the survey began, and we are lower than the national average.”
While overall consumption and sales of liquor in Utah have jumped by 45 percent since 2005, underage drinking has plunged. Lifetime use of alcohol across all grades continues to drop, moving from 18.8 percent in 2015 to 18.1 percent in 2017.
Of particular concern is where Utah teens are getting their alcohol, said Murakami. In the 2017 survey, 43 percent of students who use alcohol reported that they drank it at home with permission of their parents; and 31.5 percent received it at another home with permission of parents.
“This demonstrates the continued need to raise awareness of the availability of alcohol in the home and that all kids need their parents‘ help to stay alcohol-free, regardless of their upbringing,” Murakami noted in the Parents Empowered annual report.
Murakami said information from the SHARP survey is used by the DABC’s Parents Empowered program to create statewide campaigns —including television commercials, billboards, radio spots and messages in liquor stores — to encourage parents to take a more active role in preventing underage drinking.
Under state law, 6 percent of the total gross revenue from the sales of wine, beer and liquor is used for media and education campaigns to prevent underage drinking.
Since that provision was passed in 2012, the Parents Empowered budget has grown steadily, from $1.7 million to about $2.4 million in 2017.