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Studies show Carroll ranks high in excessive drinking, underage drinking

Carroll County has the second-highest frequency of excessive drinkers in the state, according to the 2013 County Health Rankings.

As a part of a larger study that surveyed citizens about their health habits, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System asked people aged 18 and older whether they had consumed more than four or five alcoholic beverages, for women and men respectively, on a single occasion in the last 30 days and if they consume more than one or two drinks per day, again for women and men respectively, on average, according to the survey description at

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According to the results, approximately 19 percent of Carroll residents identify as either a binge or heavy drinker. The average for the state is 15 percent.

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"We see it," said Linda Auerback, substance abuse prevention supervisor for the Carroll County Health Department. The statistic manifests itself in inpatient treatment for addiction, sexual assaults and suicides, she said.

The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration conducted a more in-depth study on alcohol and drug use habits in Maryland and found that 60.7 percent of residents surveyed in North Central Maryland - Carroll and Howard counties - reported some form of alcohol use in the last month, and 21.4 percent reported binge drinking. The findings were published in the 2014 Maryland Jurisdiction Epidemiological Report and the study was conducted with the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.

"It's because it's so accepted," Auerback said, adding that perception in the county about alcohol consumption needs to improve.

Carol Mullen, coordinator for the Carroll County Coalition Against Underage Drinking, said the County Health Rankings statistic does not surprise her, in part because of research the coalition has done about drinking habits in county teens and young adults that likely carry over into adulthood.

According to Mullen, the coalition conducted a needs assessment and found that, on average, young adults in Carroll County have their first alcoholic drink at age 12 and that 83 percent do not think that consuming alcohol when under the legal age has harmful effects.

In fact, Mullen said, people who begin using alcohol before they turn 21 are five times more likely to abuse it or develop dependence.

"We are just trying to make people more aware of what's happening in our county," Mullen said of the coalition's goals.

With the St. Patrick's Day holiday approaching, Mullen said that underage drinking does become more prevalent along with of-age drinking.

One of the targeted awareness areas is for parents who host parties where underage drinking takes place or even provide the alcohol. While these parents think they're doing the right thing by providing a safe environment and preventing drinking and driving, they are enabling behavior that can lead to addiction, according to Auerback.

"What's so sad is that it's the age where they're going to get addicted in six months," she said, citing research that claims alcoholism is a more serious risk for underage drinkers.

While Carroll ranks eighth statewide in percentage of vehicle crashes that are alcohol- and drug-related at 7.3 percent, that number increases to 10.5 percent among drivers aged 16 to 25 and puts the county second in the state, according to the Maryland Jurisdiction Epidemiological Report. According to Mullen, the coalition's study found that 80 percent of teens and young adults surveyed said that they had been in a car with a driver who has been drinking.

According to Senior State's Attorney and District Court Supervisor Ken Grote, underage drinking and driving is taken seriously in court. Underage drivers who are charged with driving under the influence of alcohol will usually face more stringent probation requirements for a first offense because they have violated two laws: drinking under age and driving under the influence. The court will also consider Breathalyzer results and how far over the legal limit the driver was.

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To prevent addiction and other harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption, Auerback said the Health Department strives to inform the public and focuses a lot of efforts on young adults who may have misconceptions about drinking.

"Our work is cut out for us," Auerback said.

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