Teens Drinking Too Much in US


Medical Authors and Editors: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D. and Frederick Hecht, M.D.

Sept. 16, 2004 -- About 12% of 8th graders have had five or more drinks on a single occasion within the past 2 weeks, according to a report from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And about 29% of 12th graders have had five or more drinks in a row in the past 2 weeks.

Underage drinking in the US peaked in the 70's, went down in the 80's, and stayed stuck on a disturbingly high plateau in the 90s, states the NIH report on "Trends in Drinking Among Americans Age 18 and Younger: 1975-2002."

The report by Vivian Faden and Michael Fay is in this month's issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. The abstract by Drs. Faden and Fay reads as follows:

Background: Although changes over time in the prevalence of drinking by youth under 18 have been previously reported, we present results based on data from multiple surveys, using recently developed software for trend analyses. In this study, we applied joinpoint statistical methodology to three national data sets to analyze trends in drinking by youth, age 18 and under, for the period 1975 to 2002.

Methods: Information was obtained from three national data sets, Monitoring the Future for the years 1975 to 2002, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey for the years 1991 to 2001, and the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse for 1979, 1985, and 1991 to 2001.

Approximately 80,000 persons between 12 and 18 were included in the most recent survey years. The alcohol consumption measures examined over time were any use of alcohol, consumption of five or more drinks on one occasion, and daily consumption.

Results: Alcohol consumption by 8th, 10th and 12th graders decreased substantially since the 1970s according to joinpoint trend analyses. It remains disturbingly high, however, according to data from three national surveys (e.g., 12.4% of 8th and 28.6% of 12th graders drinking five or more drinks in a row in the past 2 weeks), although prevalence rates have been relatively stable for the last 5 to 10 years.

Conclusions: Since the early 1990s, rates of drinking by youth under 18 remained relatively stable according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and National Household Survey on Drug Abuse and moved up and then down according to Monitoring the Future, underscoring the need for continued surveillance and enhanced understanding of this long-standing problem.

Our Comments: We think that the failure to reduce underage drinking since the 1980s is worrisome. Five drinks at one occasion is a lot for an adult. For an eighth-grader it is shocking.

The trends over time are interesting. Underage drinking peaked in the 70's, declined in the 80's, and stayed on a disturbingly high plateau in the 90s. What was different about the 80s?

One thing was Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" program in the 80s. This may have seemed uselessly naive at the time but it did draw more attention to alcohol and drug prevention. When is the last time you saw an alcohol-prevention commercial on TV?

We believe that the US needs to pay much more attention to the many serious problems we have within our country today such as underage drinking.

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Reviewed on 6/13/2018