WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 2003 — More than five million high schoolers binge drink at least once a month; according to Teen Tipplers: America's Underage Drinking Epidemic, a new report released today by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). The 145-page report, the result of two years of research and analysis, also found that the gender gap in alcohol consumption that for generations separated girls and boys has disappeared among younger teens: male and female ninth graders are just as likely to drink (40 percent vs. 41 percent) and to binge drink (22 percent vs. 20 percent).
"Underage drinking has reached epidemic proportions in America," says Joseph A. Califano Jr., CASA president and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. "Alcohol damages the young brain, interferes with mental and social development and interrupts academic progress. Alcohol is the fatal attraction for many teens, a major factor in the three leading causes of teen death - accidents, homicide and suicide."
The report includes a landmark survey of 900 adults which reveals that Americans overwhelmingly support cracking down on underage drinking:
- 76 percent believe parents should be held legally responsible for teen drinking.
- 86 percent call for restrictions on home delivery of alcohol.
- 74 percent support restrictions on alcohol advertising.
- 54 percent support increasing taxes on alcohol.
"Alcohol is far and away the top drug of abuse for American kids" says Susan Foster, CASA vice-president and director of Policy Research and Analysis. "The college binge drinking problem starts with children and teens, and that's where our prevention and education efforts must be focused."
Key Findings About Underage Drinking
Underage drinkers are a critical segment of the alcohol beverage market. Since most heavy and problem drinkers begin drinking before they reach age 21, underage drinking is key to the profitability of the alcohol industry.
- 83 percent of adults who drink had their first drink of alcohol before age 21.
- Individuals who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcohol dependent than those who begin drinking at age 21.
- The prevalence of lifetime alcohol abuse is greatest for those who begin drinking at age 14.
Teens have easy access to alcohol. Parents are too often unwitting co-conspirators who see underage drinking and occasional bingeing as a rite of passage, rather than a deadly round of Russian roulette.
The pervasive influence of the entertainment industry has glamorized and sexualized alcohol and rarely shows the ill effects of abuse.
- One third of sixth and ninth graders obtain alcohol from their own homes.
- Children cite other people's homes as the most common setting for drinking.
A CASA Checklist for Parents:
- Out of 81 G-rated animated films, nearly 50 percent showed characters using alcohol, often without consequence (34 percent equated alcohol with wealth and affluence; 19 percent with sexual activity).
- Alcohol advertising often uses images that appeal to kids (e.g., Budweiser's talking lizards, Budweiser's Spuds MacKenzie dog).
- 41 percent of teens have tried a new breed of sweet-tasting, colorfully packaged alcoholic beverages (e.g., Tequiza, Smirnoff Ice, Skyy Blue).
- GE subsidiary NBC has begun airing liquor advertisements, ending a 50-year voluntary ban by the networks and the liquor industry.
- Set rules and expectations and enforce consequences.
- Eat dinner together.
- Monitor TV, internet use and CD purchases.
- Know your children's friends and where they go.
- Send clear messages about alcohol use.
- Discuss negative consequences of drinking.
- Give your children perspective on media messages.
- Don't show your child that it takes a drink to relax.
- Don't accept underage drinking as a rite of passage.
- When your child needs help, get treatment - fast!
Recommendations for Policy Makers, Educators and Prevention Experts:
- Hold parents legally responsible for their children's alcohol use.
- Step up enforcement of underage drinking laws for children and teens who drink and the individuals and establishments that provide alcohol to them.
- End all alcohol ads, including beer, on television.
- Require prominent warning labels on all alcohol advertising.
- Broaden the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy mandate to include alcohol in its media campaigns and other activities.
- Fund additional treatment programs for adolescents.
- Increase research to improve treatment effectiveness.
- Increase alcohol taxes and dedicate proceeds to prevention and treatment.
- Create an independent foundation financed by the alcohol industry to campaign against underage drinking.
"This report is a clarion call for a national mobilization to curb underage drinking," says Califano. "It sets the stage for parents, law enforcement, legislators, the entertainment industry and the alcohol industry to save millions of teens from destroying their lives through alcohol abuse."
Read also the statement of Joseph A. Califano, Jr. on the release of the report.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University is the only national organization that brings together under one roof all the professional disciplines needed to study and combat all types of substance abuse as they affect all aspects of society. CASA's missions are to: inform Americans of the economic and social costs of substance abuse and its impact on their lives; assess what works in prevention, treatment and law enforcement; encourage every individual and institution to take responsibility to combat substance abuse and addiction; provide those on the front lines with tools they need to succeed; and remove the stigma of substance abuse and replace shame and despair with hope.
With a staff of 74 professionals, CASA has demonstration projects in 60 sites in 32 cities and 21 states focused on children, families and schools, and has been testing the effectiveness of drug and alcohol treatment, monitoring 15,000 individuals in more than 200 programs and five drug courts in 26 states.