Underage binge drinking isn’t just someone else’s problem.

If you think Gallatin County is exempt from underage binge drinking, think again.

With a focus on improving healthy behaviors and specifically alcohol misuse, the Healthy Behaviors coalition conducted a Community Readiness Assessment to identify problem awareness and readiness for change in relation to underage drinking. The assessment helps community partners understand where to intervene as well as identify what strategies will be most effective with the greatest chance of success.

The results were a bit surprising.

Gallatin Country received a score of 2.39, which puts us in the Denial/Resistance stage of readiness. Meaning, some members of the community are aware of the issue, but most are not. Put simply, leadership and community members believe the issue is not a priority. In order to move to a higher level of readiness, we need to increase awareness of the problem.

Eight interviews were conducted with involved, influential citizens from five career sectors; law, business, education, government and involved citizen. Responses were based on the perspective of the community, leaving out personal beliefs or ideals.

One major theme that emerged is a feeling among respondents that underage drinking is, “…part of the Montana culture.”

Underage binge drinking leads to above average DUI rates, alcohol related vehicular fatality rates, suicide rates and alcoholism rates.

“Underage drinking is a community problem, that has a community solution. Youth are putting their future at risk. While we have wonderful organizations working to address this issue, it’s impossible for one or even two organizations to take it on alone or with just one approach,” explains Lori Christenson with the Healthy Behaviors Coalition and Gallatin City-County Health Department.

In order to make strides toward diminishing underage binge drinking, the community must be ready to acknowledge and participate in finding solutions. At this point, we’re not quite there. A specific quote from the survey gives insight on the general feeling in the community, “It’s somewhat of a priority, but it’s not significant. The issue may be a concern, but it’s not a priority.”

The takeaway? Undoubtedly, awareness of the problem needs to be a priority in order to open doors and take action. For more information, or to learn how you can get involved, reach out to any of the following local organizations and coalitions:

Healthy Behaviors Coalition

Community Coalition on Drugs and Alcohol (http://c-coda.org/)

DUI Task Force (http://gallatincomt.virtualtownhall.net/Public_Documents/gallatincomt_dui/duitaskforce)

Alcohol and Drug Services of Gallatin County (http://adsgc.org/)