A new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) demonstrates a significant decline in the level of current under-age alcohol consumption, as well as a drop in under-age binge drinking. Figures in the report show a decrease of 28.8% in 2002 down to 22.7% in 2013 among those aged between 12-20 years. Despite an obvious reduction in the figures, alcohol remains the most widely used and abused substance among 12-20 year olds, with 22.7% consuming alcohol compared to 16.9% using tobacco and even lower 13.6% using illicit drugs. A culture of binge drinking is also evident; despite a reduction from 19.3% in 2002 to 14.2% in 2013 this is alarming as by definition binge drinking is having five or more drinks on the same occasion. For young people this is a substantial amount of alcohol and can cause serious damage and cause major problems.
Sadly alcohol is responsible for over 4,300 deaths annually among the under-age population in the United States. Another less encouraging statistic is that although the legal drinking age here in the U.S is 21, people aged 12- 20 years account for 11% of the alcohol consumed in the country. A Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 10% of high school students within a 30 day time frame had drove after drinking alcohol and 22% rode in a car with driver who had drank alcohol.
So despite the positive steps being taken and the encouraging figures, there is still a lot of work to be done with respect to tackling under-age drinking in the United States. Two main approaches are being highlighted and endorsed by experts, firstly national policy with strong regulations and secondly greater responsibility taken on by parents. Both of these approaches are proven to play a hugely significant part in the reduction of under-age drinking. Research undertaken over the past number of years show that teenagers living in states with stronger alcohol policies are less likely to consume alcohol. Policy has a hugely influential role as even in the cases where laws were not directly targeting young people they have led to significant reductions in teen drinking. This demonstrates the significant connection between policy and parenting, as experts believe and research suggests that strategies and policies that target parents and adults have a knock on effect on young people. Some researchers even believe that adult orientated policies actually have a greater effect on under-age drinking than youth specific policies.
Essentially policy and parenting should complement each other in order to have a long term significant effect on under-age drinking. Tougher laws with regards to drinking are and have been introduced, so do we now need to look at the role parents have to play and if they are doing enough. Some recent reports show that parents often hinder the progress being made in tackling under-age drinking. Many allow their children to drink and even give them alcohol; others choose to turn a blind eye or fail to adequately educate teens on alcohol and its dangers and effects. Adult relationships, particularly those of parents have a major influence on potential teen drinking. Behaviour is learnt and if young people see parents or adults around them who have a negative relationship with alcohol then they will be more likely to begin drinking and worst still, drink irresponsibly.
Director of SAMSHA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Frances M. Harding highlights the importance of these combined efforts stating that “when parents communicate clear expectations and they are supported by community efforts to prevent under-age drinking, we can make a difference”. Communication is key; it is only with education and information that young people can the go on to make informed responsible decisions regarding alcohol.
SAMSHA’s most recent campaign is simply centered on talking to young people. The campaign “Talk. They Hear You” works to increase awareness among parents of under-age drinking trends and its prevalence. It offers parents the necessary knowledge, skills and confidence in working to prevent under-age drinking and finally works to mobilize parents to work on preventing under-age drinking. An important point for parents is that the crucial age in this mission is 9-15 years. By the age of nine young people are thinking about alcohol and drinking, it may be as innocent as thinking why do adults do it, to should I try it. By the age of fifteen many young people have begun to drink alcohol. The dangers and repercussions are not isolated to the present day; young people who begin to drink before the age of fifteen are five times more likely to have problems with alcohol as adults.
Parents cannot rely solely on policy and regulations to deter our young people from drinking. Parents have a huge responsibility and if a genuine commitment from parents is combined with government and community efforts we can reduce the rate of under-age drinking significantly. Great work has been done in the last number of years, but more can be done, especially by parents. An incentive to become proactive in this battle is the fact that under-age drinking is one of the most serious Public Health issues facing young people in this country and while a decline is evident it is still the most used substance among teenagers.
More information on the SAMHSA’s “Talk. They Hear You.” Campaign
Father-Son talk about alcohol