skip to the main content area of this page
Missoula Measures
(406) 258-3686
Missoula County Seal and image of areas around the City.

Missoula County - Missoula Measures

Department: Missoula Measures
Missoula County Home

Missoula Measures - Youth Substance Abuse

Why this topic?

There are serious short term and long term impacts of underage drinking and illegal drug use:

In the short run, it increases the incidences of violence, vandalism, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, traffic crashes, academic difficulties, date rape, unintentional injuries, and illnesses.

In the long run, it leads to alcoholism and drug addiction (the younger people are when they start using, the more likely they are to become addicted), death or permanent injury in traffic crashes, dropping out of school, teen parenting, suicide, family violence, stunted physical and mental development, and chronic disease.

The three leading causes of death for 15- to 24-year-olds are automobile crashes, homicides and suicides -- alcohol is a leading factor in all three.  The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. HHS, Office of the Surgeon General, 2007.

Teens also haven’t learned to drink responsibly, or in moderation. They usually don’t drink to relax, they drink to get drunk, which increases the potential for problems.

"Excessive alcohol use remains the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States and leads to a wide range of health and social problems."  CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.

Healthy People 2020 Target    
  Base Target
Reduce adolescents who have ridded with a drinking driver in past 30 days 28.3% 25.5%


Barriers to reducing teen substance abuse include:

  • Parents who see teen alcohol and marijuana use as a “right of passage”.
  • Adults who buy alcohol for teens.
  • Alcohol sales establishments that sell to underage buyers.
  • Parents who fail to discuss responsible drinking with their teens.
  • Alcohol or or drug abuse in the home.

How are we doing?

Nationally, 43% of teens report that they had one drink in the past 30 days; in Montana, it is 49%.  YRBS 2005

 According to an Oct. 2010 report from CDC, nationally:

  • 1 in 4 high school students and young adults (age 18-24) report binge drinking (4 or more drinks in a couple hours) in the past month.
  • Men are twice as likely to binge drink as women.
  • Binge drinking increases the risks for fatal car crashes, contracting a sexually transmitted disease, dating violence and drug overdose.

MUSAP Report 2011


Alcohol is by far the most commonly used drug by teens in Missoula, followed by tobacco and marijuana.  It is typically the first drug used by teens and many teens who experiment with other drugs do so while under the influence of alcohol.  MUSAP Report 2010

Montana Youth Risk Behavior Trend Data - Alcohol
% of Students who... 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009
Had at least 1 drink in lifetime 85 83 84 84 86 83 81 78 78 76
Were 12 or younger at first drink 41 40 39 39 34 35 30 28   24
Had 1 or more drinks in past month 54 56 58 59 58 54 50 49 47 43
Binge drank in past month* 38 41 43 44 44 41 37 34 33 30
Drank alcohol on school property in past month NA 5 7 9 8 7 7 6 6 5

* Binge drinking means 5 or more drinks within a couple hours. 
Montana YRBS Trend Data

Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey Reports


Healthy People 2020 Target    
  Base Target
Reduce percent of adolescents who binge drank in the past month 9.4% 8.5%


More PNA 2004 Data:

Percent of Missoula County Students Who Used _______ in the Past 30 Days:

graph % of Missoula students grades 8, 10, 12 who drank alcohol in past month

graph % of Missoula 8, 10, 12 grade students who used marijuana in past month


graph % of students grades 8, 10, 12 who used inhalents in past month 


2011 Missoula and Montana YRBS self-reported data indicates that 2-4 % of middle and high school students have used meth in the past month.


graph % of Missoula students grades 8, 10, 12, who used sedatives, stimulants, or narcotics without their doctor's orders


In 2008, in Missoula County, there were 7 suicide deaths by prescription drug overdose, higher than ever before.

In the US, between 2004 - 2008, the number of Emergency Department (ED) visits for non-medical use of prescription pain medications (opiod analgesics) increased 111%; for the use of anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazipines) ED visits increased 89%.

In 2004 there were 1 million ED visits for illicit drugs and 1/2 million for prescription pain drugs. 

In 2008 there were 1 million ED visits for illicit drugs and 1 million visits for prescription pain drugs.

From: Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) - a division of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - US Dept of Health


Top of Page

(Information for specific high schools may be available from those school principals.)

Related Data


Healthy People 2020:

Have ridden with a driver who had been drinking - in the past 30 days

  • Western Montana, YRBS data, 2005 - 30%
  • Healthy People 2010 Target - 30%


graph minors in possesssion of alcohol arrests annually thru 2010 

Nationally, underage drinking is involved in a large percentage of crimes, injuries, and
fatalities involving teens:

  • 24% of fatal motor vehicle crashes
  • 8% of nonfatal motor vehicle crashes
  • 30% of fatal drownings
  • 30% of fatal burns
  • 41% of homicide
  • 43% of sexual assaults
  • 37% of other assaults
  • 9% of suicides
  • 20% of risky sexual behavior
  • 24% of property crimes

Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation - “Societal Costs of Underage Drinking, 2006"

In Missoula County in 2009 (most recent data available):

24% of drivers involved in alcohol-related traffic crashes were under the age of 21 Total alcohol-related traffic crashes - 416; Drivers under age 21 - 50

Breakdown of ages of underage drivers in alcohol-related crashes in Missoula County:  
17 3
18 11
19 21
20 15

Montana Department of Transportation

Brief background

National Youth Drinking Trends (70s to present)

A 2004 analysis of youth drinking trends over the last three decades finds that, since the early 90s, prevalence is relatively stable, but the levels still remain high. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

The research found that underage drinking rates peaked in the late 1970s, when 80 percent of adolescents said they consumed alcohol by the time they were 12th graders, and 12 percent of 8th-graders said they consumed five or more drinks on a single occasion within the two weeks prior to being surveyed.

In the 1980s, when the minimum legal drinking age rose from 18 to 21, youth drinking rates declined. Since the early 1990s, underage drinking rates have stabilized, but at levels that experts describe as disturbing.

Currently, rates for any alcohol use in the past 30 days range from 20 percent of 8th-graders to 49 percent of 12th-graders. The research also shows that more than 12 percent of 8th-graders and nearly 30 percent of 12th-graders reported drinking five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks. The study's findings are published in the September 2004 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Top of Page

Risk and protective factors

Risk and protective factors are characteristics in families, schools and communities that effect a young person's likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors such as alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use, being successful in school, or having healthy interactions with family, friends and community, either as adolescents or as adults.  Increasing or improving protective factors and reducing or eliminating risk factors can help insure healthy growth and development.

Web sites that address youth risk and protective factors:

Children (14 & Under) Drinking Alcohol

Children are defined as 14 and under (or generally middle school aged and younger). They are at greater risk for more serious consequences in the short and long term than older drinkers. More than 40% of people who begin drinking before age 13 are classified with alcohol dependence at some time in their lives. If the onset of drinking is delayed 5 years, a child’s risk of developing serious alcohol problems is decreased by 50%.

Important maturing of the nervous system and brain continue through late adolescence into early adulthood, and children 14 and under are particularly vulnerable. Alcohol use during these years has life-long effects on memory, verbal skills, and cognitive function.

Age at first use is associated with other health problems including early and unwanted pregnancy, depression, suicide, exposure to sexually transmitted disease, violent behavior, criminal activity, difficulty in school, injury and death.

In addition, this is an important concern because there is significant community agreement that we should not tolerate children drinking. There are many things we can do better (parents, older siblings, other youth, schools, judges, law enforcement, human service and health providers, businesses, and political officials) to reduce the number of children who drink, and to more effectively intervene with ones who do.

“How Does Alcohol Affect the World of a Child” Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free May 2001

MUSAP Report Card 2011 - Underage Drinking in Missoula County


Risky behaviors associated with tobacco use:

graph teen tobacco use and risky behaviors Montana 

Category clarification for graph above:

  • Made a serious suicide attempt in past year
  • Were purposely hit, slapped or hurt by boyfriend or girlfriend in past year
  • Used spit tobacco in past month
  • Drove after drinking alcohol in past month
  • Drank 5 or more alcoholic drinks within a couple hours in the past month
  • Tried marijuana in lifetime
  • Had sexual intercourse in lifetime


Related Measures


Related Websites

Healthy People 2020 - Background on national public health status of this topic and many others.

Parent Resource Guide - from Missoula Underage Substance Abuse Prevention

Center for Drug Abuse Prevention

Partnership for a Drug-Free America

Web of Addictions - provides accurate information about alcohol and other drug addictions.

Alcohol Awareness Council

Substance Abuse Prevention Resources at University of Nevada at Reno

American Academy of Pediatrics website - search "Alcohol"

National College Health Assessment

Prescription Drug Concerns

QUICK TEST - for parents to help evaluate whether or not their child may be abusing drugs or alcohol.


public health logo

Top of Page

Site Navigation

Health Department Divisions

 Missoula Measures

Search Health Sites