October 28, 2021

Far Fewer Cortland County Teens Drinking Than 20 Years Ago

By: Margaret Broderick, Epidemiologist, CACTC

Did you know that Cortland Area Communities That Care has been surveying teens in Cortland County since 2002?

Some of you may have even grown up in Cortland County (like me!) and remember sitting in cafeteria with the survey, scantron sheet, and a classic Ticonderoga #2 furiously trying to fill in bubbles before the next period.

Looking at the yearly Cortland County youth survey now, and seeing that most teens in Cortland County do not report drinking, I sometimes think to myself: it seems like everyone was drinking when I was a teenager. Well, if you’ve been thinking the same thing, it’s because back in the day many more teens in Cortland County were drinking.

Get this. In 2002, 45.1% of 10th graders and 57.8% of 12th graders in Cortland County reported using alcohol in the past 30 days. That’s right, most high school seniors in Cortland County were drinking regularly in 2002. In 2020, only 18.9% of 10th graders and 36.2% of 12th graders report drinking the past month (Figure 1).

That is a huge decline! It also explains why many of us adults think that most teens are drinking (because that is what we experienced in high school—and the data shows that).

The reason I bring this up is because it can actually be harmful for us adults and parents to go around saying or thinking that every teen drinks.

First of all, our data shows that is simply not true anymore. Even most high school seniors in Cortland County have not drank in the past month.

Second of all, 30 years of research has shown that if teens misperceive that most of their peers are drinking, they are more likely to drink themselves. Our 2020 data shows that, despite the fact that most teens are not drinking, 32.4% still overestimate how many of the peers use alcohol.

As adults and parents in the community, we can all contribute to changing the community culture around underage drinking.

We can understand, and communicate to teens that, in 2020, most kids are actually choosing not to drink alcohol.

Haines M. P, Perkins H. W., Rice R. M., and Barker G. A Guide to Marketing Social Norms for Health Promotion in Schools and Communities. 2005. Retrieved from: http://www.socialnormsresources.