SALT LAKE CITY-- Utah teenagers drink alcohol less often than their peers from other states, but those who do consume alcohol binge drink more frequently than other teens who drink, a new state study suggests.
About 17 percent of Utah high school seniors surveyed said they had drank alcohol in the past month - less than half national figure of 40 percent, according to a report from the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.
But of those Utah seniors who reported drinking, 72 percent said they had been binge drinking in the past month. That's significantly higher than the national average of 55 percent.
The report was recently presented to Utah's Alcoholic Beverage Control, the agency that oversees sales of alcohol, The Salt Lake Tribune reports. The agency uses the information in the report to help set policy and design education programs.
The report doesn't hone in on any singular factor leading to teen drinking.
"We can only speculate why kids are binge drinking," Doug Murakami, the state's alcohol education director, told the Tribune. "But it could be that it has to do with our culture. We might be getting a push-back. There might be some rebelliousness."
At least 62 percent of the 2.8 million people living in Utah are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches its members to abstain from drinking alcohol.
Utah's drinking laws are among the strictest in the country. One law forbids restaurant workers from pouring alcohol in front of customers. There are no private liquor stores, and at the 44 state-run liquor stores beer is not refrigerated. It is sold warm, sitting on shelves.
The new survey shows that nine in 10 Utah youth believe it is wrong for someone their age to drink regularly, a statistic the authors of the report cite as a key factor in the low use of alcohol by state teenagers.
Teenagers most commonly drink alcohol at their home or someone else's house, the survey says. Most do so without their parents' permission, although 36 percent of high school seniors said they drink with their parents' approval.
Alan Cochrane, a clinical mental health counselor in Salt Lake County, told the Tribune teenagers who see their parents drinking or using drugs are most at risk of falling into the same habits. That's true no matter the socio-economic class of the family, he said.
Since 2006, Utah has spent $10 million on an education campaign designed to discourage teens from drinking alcohol, the Tribune reported.
Funding for these programs was tied this year to alcohol profits, which increased the budget to $2 million annually, up from $1.4 million before. State officials say they'll use the extra money to increase an advertising campaign aimed at preventing underage drinking.