The Problem of Underage Drinking in the US

A 2011 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that fewer teens today are drinking alcohol than in previous years. Things are looking up, but teens are still in jeopardy of harming their health, their future life, and endangering the lives of others because of alcohol use. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), over 25 percent of Americans aged 17 and under are drinking alcohol.

Dangers of Underage Drinking

Teens who drink alcohol risk endangering their safety. Multiple studies show how those underage drinkers who become intoxicated are at greater risk for rape, brain damage, future alcoholic dependency, and automobile accidents. With motor vehicle crashes being one of the leading causes of death for teenagers, the CDC revealed alarming statistics on teen alcohol use and driving. Nearly one-fourth of high school students admitted that they had been passengers in a car where the driver had been drinking alcohol. Eight percent admitted that they were once the intoxicated driver. These teens were fortunate to have survived such reckless driving, to have arrived home alive, and to have not inadvertently taken someone else’s life.

Trends Around the United States

In a recent study, SAMHSA studied just how underage alcohol use was pouring across the nation. Vermont currently had the greatest percentage of underage drinkers, while Utah had the least. Underage drinkers purchased the highest amount of alcohol in New York. Six of the top ten states that had the greatest number of drinkers who were underage were in the Northeastern United States. A cluster of southern states (North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, West Virginia and Arkansas) had the lowest numbers of underage drinkers. SAMSHA also interviewed students on how they obtained their alcohol. Less than 10 percent purchased it on their own, while 40 percent got their alcohol from someone else. Interestingly, the southern states that had the lower number of drinkers had the higher rates of teens who were underage purchasing their personal alcohol. Teens in New Mexico, Idaho, and Oregon were the most common to access their alcohol from someone else.

Keeping Underage Drinking in Decline

The good news in underage drinking is that recent studies have seen it steadily declining over the last 20 years. The CDC’s 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) reported that while 51 percent of high school students drank alcohol in 1991, 39 percent drank alcohol in 2011. This decline in underage drinking also brings a huge decline in drunk driving among teens over the past 20 years. Forty percent less high school students are getting inside a car with a drunk driver and 51 percent more are making the wise choice to stay away from the driving wheel after they have been drinking alcohol. Community awareness programs and education will hopefully keep furthering this upward trend of underage drinking decline.

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