New SAMHSA Report Yields Mixed Results Regarding Underage Drinking

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In its 2012 Report to Congress on the Prevention and Reduction of Underage Drinking, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states that “meaningful reductions in underage drinking” transpired from 2004 to 2010, with young people, ages 12 to 20, engaging in both less binge drinking and overall alcohol use.

The report states that middle schoolers and high school students demonstrated the sharpest decreases in underage alcohol use, with past-month alcohol use dwindling by 22.7 percent during the six year study window, while reports of binge drinking declined by almost 30 percent. 

However, in 2010, nearly two-out-of-five 20 year-olds reported engaging in binge drinking, while an estimated 14 percent of 20-year-olds reported having engaged in binge drinking five or more times during a single month. Researchers also say that the gap between underage male and female binge drinking is shrinking, with 18.4 percent of 12th grade femalescompared to 28 percent of 12th grade malesreporting that they engaged in binge drinking. The percentage of male and female 8th graders that report binge drinking, researchers say, has virtually converged. 

Alcohol use by minors also appears to be skewing towards younger adolescents, with an estimated 10 percent of 9- and 10-years-olds already having started drinking. About one fifth of underage drinkers in the United States report having initiated alcohol use before they were 13, with SAMHSA stating that every year, about 910,000 individuals under the age of 15 begin using alcohol. 

While researchers note the impact of federal initiatives and media campaigns on raising underage drinking to a “prominent place on the national public-health agenda,” they also state that much work is to be done in combating adolescent alcohol use in the U.S. 

“Data in this Report demonstrate that meaningful progress has been made in reducing underage drinking prevalence,” the report concludes. “Nevertheless, the rates of underage drinking are still unacceptably high, resulting in preventable and tragic health and safety consequences for the nation’s youth, families, communities, and society as a whole.”