Law Enforcement Best Way to Deter Underage Drinking

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Byline: THE HEALTH FILES By Tim Christie The Register-Guard

The best way to reduce underage drinking is to make it harder for minors to get their hands on alcohol, a new study has found.

The researchers found the amount of law enforcement against underage purchases and the number of alcohol outlets where young people can buy alcohol are the biggest determinants for underage drinking, binge drinking and driving while impaired.

The study provides scientific confirmation for what has long been apparent, said Joel Grube, director of the Prevention Research Center in Berkeley, Calif., and one of the study' authors.

"Communities can reduce underage drinking by reducing the number of outlets that sell booze to kids and by increasing enforcement of minimum-age purchase laws," he said.

Grube collaborated on the study with researchers Clyde Dent and Anthony Biglan from the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene. Their findings were published in the December issue of the journal Preventive Medicine.

The study was based on Oregon Healthy Teens, an annual survey of adolescent health behaviors conducted by the state Department of Human Services. The survey asks students how often and how much they drink, when they began drinking, how often they've had alcohol-induced blackouts and similar questions.

The researchers analyzed responses from about 17,000 11th-graders in 93 communities taken in 2001 and 2002.

They found that in communities where it was easier for minors to buy alcohol, the level of alcohol use was higher and more alcohol-related problems existed. Stronger enforcement of minor-in-possession laws, meanwhile, was associated with lower levels in the frequency of alcohol use and in binge drinking.

Most Oregon minors - 70 percent - get their alcohol from friends, parents or other social sources. Thirty percent get it from convenience stores, supermarkets or other commercial sources.

Students who were able to buy from stores had higher levels of drinking, impaired driving or riding with an impaired driver. Students tended to drink and binge less in communities where they were more likely to be caught by police if they drank.

While underage drinking is sometimes viewed as a harmless rite of passage, it is associated with a host of serious problems, including injuries and deaths from drunken driving, unprotected and unwanted sex, and violence and vandalism, Grube said.

"Underage drinking is a very costly behavior for this country," he said.

The federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has estimated underage drinking costs the United States $53 billion a year, mainly through loss of life but also through property damage and other losses. …