Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council


Latest Trends in Alcohol

What is the scope of alcohol abuse and underage drinking in Middlesex County?

Connecticut ranks 25th in alcohol consumption among the fifty states. With 55% of American adults reporting that they have had 1+ alcoholic drinks in the past thirty days, that percentage is higher in the northeast states (60%) and higher still in Connecticut at 65 percent. (NSDUH)

On any given day about 12,800 Americans take their first drink of alcohol. The great majority of them (82.4%) are younger than age 21 and approximately 58.6% are younger than 18. Young adults continue to be the heaviest drinkers. Among American youth 18 to 25 years old, the past-30-day drinking rate is 61.03% while in Connecticut it is 70.93 percent. (NSDUH)

Underage drinking is most accurately captured in Middlesex County through student surveys. Between 2010 and 2012, a total of 8,012 students in ten towns answered the question “how many alcoholic drinks have you had in the past 30 days?” The percent of students answering “one or more” is seen in Graph A.

Graph A. Student past-30-day use of alcohol (%)

(Middle School = blue / High School = red)
Source: Mx.Cty. student surveys 2010-2012, YRBSS

The percent of student drinkers shown in Graph A is evidence of a drop in active drinking. At the time of our last report in 2010, 42% of our high school students drank; that number is now 35.7 percent. Similarly, two years ago we reported that 10% of middle school students drank; that number has dropped to 8.3 percent. This downward trend mirrors state averages which dropped from 46% to 41.5% at the high school level (YRBS). Still, Middlesex County and Connecticut students report significantly more “past 30 day” drinking than the American average as captured by NSDUH surveys at 16.8 percent. Table B displays these trends.

As shown in Table A, there are significant differences between Middlesex County towns. High school “past 30 day” drinking rates ranged from 28.5% to 45 percent. Middle school students were even more disparate, with a low of 4.7% drinkers at one school and more than three times that number, 13.1%, at another. And while a low rate of 30-day alcohol use among middle school children is obviously desirable, it is not necessarily a predictor for high school drinking rates.

It is usually the case that a high “perception of risk” correlates with a low level of use. We would expect, then, that lower drinking rates in middle school would be accompanied by a high perception of risk, and heavier-drinking older teens would have a lower perception of risk. That is not the case. Graph C shows past-30-day student drinking in nine towns.

Graph C. Past 30 day drinking (%)


Source: Mx. County student surveys, 2010-2012

As one would expect there is a wide gap between younger children and older teens. But the two groups display a similar perception of risk in using alcohol. In fact, more 11th and 12th grade students in Town A viewed alcohol as a risky substance than did their younger counterparts (Graph D). We hypothesize that alcohol education and social norming campaigns have made juniors and seniors in many high schools highly aware of risk.

Graph D. Perception of risk in alcohol use (%)
Source: Mx. County student surveys, 2010-2012

Binge drinking is an important aspect of alcohol abuse. According to the CDC, binge drinking accounts for half of all deaths due to excessive drinking and three quarters of economic costs associated with problem drinking. Binge drinking is more associated with men – especially young men – than with women, as Table E demonstrates. Table E defines number of drinks as the “largest number of drinks consumed on occasion among binge drinkers (CDC: Vital Signs).” Among adults, beer is the choice of binge drinking (74%) while high school students choose hard liquor 50% of the time.

Table E. Largest number drinks

consumed by sex and age

Males 9.0 drinks

Females 5.9 drinks

18-24 9.3 drinks

25-34 8.4

35-44 7.6

45-64 6.8

65+ 5.7

Source: CDC “Vital Signs,” 2010

With the notable exception of Hawaii, binge drinking is a northern phenomenon. Three New England states (ME, VT, MA) are among the states in which 19-27% of adults drinkers binge drink. The second group of states, including Connecticut, binge drink at 17-19 percent. States with the lowest rate of binge drinking (11-17%) include California and the south. It can also be noted that binge drinking increases with household income (CDC: Vital Signs, 2010).

The above data is based on a definition of “binge drinking” as five or more drinks at one time for men, and four or more drinks at one time for women (NIAAA News, 2004, Vol. 3).

Local surveys use a slightly different definition. Students are asked whether they have consumed five or more drinks at a time regardless of gender. More importantly, Middlesex County youth are asked whether they have consumed five or more drinks in a row over the past two weeks while YRBS and NSDUH pose the question on a “past 30 day” basis. We would expect, therefore, that local teen binging data would be markedly lower than state and national percentages. The fact that it is not (it is less than 1% lower) indicates that binge drinking is a more pervasive problem in Middlesex County (Tables F).

Table F1. Binge Drinking MCSAAC/YRBSS

Middlesex Middle School: 3.5%

Middlesex High School: 21.4%

Connecticut High School: 22.3%

Source: Mx. County surveys, YRBS

Table F2. Binge Drinking MCSAAC/NSDUH

Mx. Cty. Age 12 to 17: 15.43%

Conn. Age 12 to 17: 10.17%

Source: Mx. County surveys, NSDUH

Table G presents the percentage of local middle school and high school students who report that in the past two weeks, they have had “five or more drinks in a row.”

Table G. Local students reporting binge drinking in past 2 weeks (%)

Location Middle High

Town B 4.0 19.0

Town C 4.0 19.5

Town D 1.5 23.5

Town E 5.5 26.5

Town F 4.0 18.75

Town H 4.0 26.25

Town I 4.0 32.75

Average 3.86 23.75

Source: Mx. County student surveys

As noted above, overall youth drinking decreased in Middlesex County between 2007-2009 and 2010-2012. Youth binge drinking, though, remained stable. As a result, youthful binge drinkers now account for a greater portion of those age 12-17 who use alcohol.

Drinking and driving is a significant problem in Middlesex County. Focusing on 11th and 12th grade youth – those old enough to drive – we find that 15% of them drove while intoxicated in the past year, with one rural town reporting 25% young drunk drivers. On average, more than a third (36.6%) rode in a car with an intoxicated driver. Towns contributing to these numbers are shown in Graph H. (Comparison with other regions is difficult as the YRBSS uses 30-day data, not 12-month data.)

Table H. 11th-12th grade students

(a) driving after drinking or (b)

with intoxicated driver, past yr.

Location (a) (b)

Town B 8 33.5

Town C 9.5 37.5

Town D 18.5 39

Town E 16 39.5

Town F 16 32.5

Town H 20 33

Town I 25 41

Average 15.1 36.6

Source: Mx. County student surveys

The Consequences of Alcohol Abuse

There were 12 alcohol-related suspensions or expulsions in Middlesex County public schools in 2009, the last year for which data is available (CT Data Collaborative). While few in number, they appear to be correlated with student drinking habits: the greatest number of suspensions was at a school with the lowest number of active (past 30 day) drinkers. The school system with greatest number of drinking students reported no alcohol-related suspensions.

The consequences of binge drinking include death from alcohol poisoning. No community is immune to this tragedy as evidenced by State Medical Examiner’s Office data. Between 2007 and 2009, 41 people in Middlesex County died from alcohol overdose including 12 in Middletown, 7 in Portland, 4 each in East Haddam and East Hampton, 3 in Haddam, 2 in Westbrook, and one in every other town.

The development of alcohol dependence, or alcoholism, is a consequence of excessive drinking over time. SAMHSA defines alcohol dependence as a chronic disease; patients exhibit strong cravings and the inability to limit drinking. Nationally, an estimated 1.8% of children age 12-17 suffer from alcoholism, a number that jumps to 6.8% in the 18-25 age group and drops back down to 3.6% for the adult (18+) population. In our region of Connecticut, those numbers are about the same: 2% of children, 6.9% of young adults, and 3.4% of adults.

In Middlesex County, many people are treated for alcohol addiction at facilities supported by the State of Connecticut, as shown in Table I. Middlesex County’s average of 46 admissions per capita is near the state average of 44.4 per capita.

Table I. Alcohol addiction treatment admissions in 2009 (per capita)

Durham 21 Old Saybrook 47

Chester 27 Middlefield 48

E. Haddam 38 Cromwell 51

Westbrook 38 Killingworth 51

Portland 43 Haddam 58

Middletown 46 Clinton 61

Deep River 47 Essex 66

East Hampton 47 Mx. Average 46

Source: Connecticut Data Collaborative

Estimates for people who need but are not receiving treatment for alcohol dependence and abuse is higher for Connecticut and higher still for our south central region, as shown in Table J.

Table J. Percent population needing but not receiving treatment, past year

Region 12-17yrs. 18-25 yrs. 18+

Total USA 4.55 15.66 7.15

Connecticut 5.12 18.48 7.99

So. Central CT 5.58 19.15 8.36

Source: NSDUH, 2010

There are several ways to measure the high risk behavior of intoxicated driving: number of DUI’s issued, number of alcohol- related car accidents, number of deaths involving intoxicated drivers. This report carries no DUI data as records have not been updated since 2006. Alcohol-related car accidents in 2008 are listed by town in Table K. State totals for 2008 included 79 fatal accidents in Connecticut where at least one driver had a BAC of 0.08% or above, with 105 deaths.

Table K. Alcohol related car accidents, rate per population, 2008

Portland 13.74 Deep River 4.34

Clinton 11.46 Killingworth 3.32

Essex 10.76 Westbrook 3.18

Old Saybrook 10.61 Durham 3.02

Haddam 9.78 East Hampton 3.0

Cromwell 9.32 Middletown 2.32

Chester 8.01 Middlefield 0

East Haddam 4.8

Source: Connecticut Data Collaborative

Our Capacity to Address this Issue

The region has an excellent capacity to further reduce alcohol abuse. All eleven Local Prevention Councils are focused on alcohol as the number one substance of concern. With the recent addition of East Haddam and Durham-Middlefield, the region now boasts five active Drug Free Communities including Clinton, Haddam-Killingworth, and the Tri-Town region. Clinton is operating a Partnership for Success program and the Middletown LPC is a Best Practices coalition with an emphasis on underage drinking.

MCSAAC found ready partners for its responsible hosting campaign, which will see expansion in 2013-2014. Most of our communities are contributing to a 30-second video on intoxicated driving that will run in 2013-2014 at local DMVs. Another common resource is the Middlesex Hospital, which has launched alcohol screenings as part its Emergency Department protocol and is training physicians to do screenings in rural communities.

The downward trend in student alcohol use between 2007 and 2012 evidenced through school surveys is consistent, gradual, and county-wide. This kind of change is sustainable and gives us confidence in our capacity to further reduce alcohol abuse in Middlesex County. CNAW members rated the ability of our population to address this problem at 3.9 on a scale of 5; the highest score of all the substances.

393 Main Street, 2nd floor Middletown, CT 06457