Suburban Teen Binge Drinking Rates Outpace Nation

While some parents may think it’s better to allow their kids and friends to drink supervised at home, social hosting, as it’s called, is punishable by jail time in Illinois.

Suburban Chicago teens are getting their hands on alcohol and drinking to excess more often than most of their peers across the country.

NBC 5 Investigates has learned that about 24-27% of suburban Chicago high school seniors admitted to drinking to excess once every two weeks. The information was collected via the Illinois Youth Survey. For comparison, a 2017 Centers for Disease Control study indicated 19% of all high school students binge drink.

Local police explain how parents can get involved to help reduce teen drinking.

Binge drinking is defined as 4 drinks for a woman and 5 drinks for a man in a 2-3 hour time frame.

Surveys also show teen binge drinking in some of Chicago’s north suburbs far outpaces the national average.

For example, New Trier Township High School District 203 said 33% of its students answered “yes” to binge drinking at least once in the last 30 days in the CDC’s 2018 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. School district officials announced the findings in a February report and said binge drinking is a significant health concern that may be an issue to which the community is predisposed.

Patrolman Robert Nichols explains how Portage, Indiana, has taken steps to reduce teen binge drinking rates by more than half since 2009.

“We have taken significant steps to address this issue within the school and now need to shift our focus to confronting binge drinking as a community issue,” wrote Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Timothy Hayes.

Still, Deputy Chief Brian O’Connell of the Winnetka Police Department said there has not been an increase in teen-related alcohol arrests.

“The New Trier survey results do not reflect what law enforcement is seeing,” said O’Connell .

NBC 5 Investigates talked to North Shore high schoolers who said today’s teens face a lot of real world pressures that could lead some to drink alcohol.

“Everything’s just kind of out in the open now with the influence of the Internet in a way that makes like even the littler things just a lot more high stress,” said one Lake Forest High School junior.

A Lake Forest High School senior said, “There’s kids here that are running businesses, making films, doing these internships that are out-of-this-world and going to these, like, unbelievable colleges. So it’s like they’re living an adult life and so those things kind of come with being an adult.”

Todd Nahigian manages the Committee Representing Our Young Adults (CROYA) after school program in Lake Forest. He said teens often model the behaviors they see from their parents.

“In this area it almost seems that there’s a level of acceptance, that that’s the drug of choice, that that’s a socially acceptable way to have a cocktail at a party or enjoy yourself at the end of a long day,” Nahigian said.

According to Nahigian, parents are the one factor that will have the biggest impact on reducing teen drinking.

“It doesn’t mean that they’re not going to drink if their parents don’t want them to, but they’re more cautious, they’re more safe, they’re more interested in making the right decision knowing that their parents will be awake when they get home, knowing that their parents will be asking where they’ve been,” Nahigian said.

While some parents may think it’s better to allow their kids and friends to drink supervised at home, social hosting, as it’s called, is punishable by jail time in Illinois.

NBC5 Investigates searched through state records and found that state liquor-control officers have cited more than thirteen hundred (1,349) bars, restaurants, groceries and liquor stores for selling alcohol to minors in the greater Chicagoland area -- including northwest Indiana – in the past five years.

• We found 161 places that have been cited more than once.

• Another 13 places have been cited three times.

• A liquor store in south-suburban Calumet Park has been cited four separate times.

• And we discovered a convenience store in Crown Point, Indiana that has been cited five separate times – just in the past five years.

But state liquor control officers only focus on certain towns and areas – so this does NOT include all citations and arrests made by local police.

The CDC’s 500 Cities Project also surveyed adults (18 +) about binge drinking and found Arlington Heights, Schaumburg and Palatine ranked among the top ten highest binge drinking cities in the country.

“We’ve wiped out literally most of the prevention money in the state of Illinois. It is important to get prevention education back into schools so that people can learn about drugs and alcohol,” said addiction treatment specialist Dr. Dan Lustig.

Sgt. Doug Hajek of the Arlington Heights Police Department said several northwest suburban police departments are participating in a program to keep alcohol out of the hands of those under 21 years of age, by reminding those over 21 that it is illegal to buy for those who are underage.

Teen binge drinking rates in Portage, Indiana, have been reduced by more than half in the past decade, according to the Porter County Substance Abuse Council. Law enforcement said a combination of proactive policing, students participating in school programs and local business involvement have helped reduce teen binge drinking rates, per youth surveys, from 32.1% in 2009 to 9.1% in 2018.

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