Lots of Kids Drink ... Keeping Teens Away from Alcohol Is Tough, but Not Impossible

By Goehring, Jan | State Legislatures, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Lots of Kids Drink ... Keeping Teens Away from Alcohol Is Tough, but Not Impossible


Goehring, Jan, State Legislatures


Lots of kids party, and alcohol is easy to get," says Jane McKnight, a California high school junior.

"In our class, we have a 'go to' guy for alcohol. He can't even drive yet, but he looks older and knows a store where they don't card him. Some kids have fake IDs, some get alcohol from their parents, and others just ask an adult going into a store to buy it for them," she adds. Jane thinks her school is about average when it comes to drinking behavior.

Research supports her comments. Nearly 50 percent of teens have had at least one drink by the time they reach eighth grade, and 20 percent say they have been drunk, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Approximately 30 percent of 12th graders "binge" drink--had more than five drinks at one time in the last two weeks. More young people drink than use other drugs or smoke tobacco. "The fact is, alcohol is the illegal drug of choice for kids," says Wendy Hamilton, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

So is this just a rite of passage in a culture where alcohol is the norm among adults or is it a problem demanding attention? The consequences of underage drinking can be devastating. Teens tend to drink to excess when they do drink. Traffic crashes are one of the most obvious dangers, with alcohol involved in more than one-third of youth traffic deaths. Underage drinking also is linked to suicide, educational difficulties, violence and sexual activity.

Myriad laws, regulations and programs are in place to prevent underage consumption. Since Congress established the drinking age as 21 in 1984, statistics improved, but kids still drink. It's a problem that seems to elude solutions.

THE ADULT CONNECTION

A recent report, "Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility," from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), offers recommendations. Mandated by Congress, the study acknowledges that kids get alcohol from adults--either directly or indirectly--and efforts to curb the problem need to focus on adults and society at large.

"We have to find effective ways to protect our nation's youth while we respect the interests of responsible adult consumers of alcohol," says Richard Bonnie, director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia and chair of the committee that wrote the report.

"We are heartened to see that the report recognizes the important role parents play in keeping alcohol out of children's hands," says Maria Tildon of the Century Council. The council, funded by distilled spirits companies, promotes responsible decision-making about alcohol, focusing on drunk driving and underage drinking problems through a variety of programs.

Recommendations in the NAS report include national adult and youth-oriented media campaigns, partnerships between industry and private and public organizations to prevent the problem, and a reduction in how much drinking is portrayed in movies and music videos.

It also calls for reducing the amount of alcohol marketing aimed at kids. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth argues that high schoolers are overexposed to alcohol advertising and influenced by its youthful themes. Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute, a national trade association, opposed this recommendation during congressional testimony on the report last fall. He cited a Roper Youth Report poll that shows that parents are the No. 1 influence on their children's decision whether to drink.

John Kaestner of Anheuser-Busch Companies agrees. "A teen's exposure to--or awareness of--beer advertising has nothing to do with what can help that teen make good decisions about respecting the law and himself when it comes to underage drinking," he says. …

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