June 26, 2008

Underage Drinking Remains Steady Problem

U.S. health officials said on Thursday that more than 40 million percent of the nation's 10.8 million underage drinkers got their alcohol from adults.

They said up to 650,000 youths and underage adults were given alcoholic beverages by their parents or guardians in the past month.

In 1984 Congress raised the U.S. legal drinking age to 21 when it passed a measure that threatened to take highway funding away from states that did not comply.

Acting Surgeon General Dr. Steven Galson said parents enable underage drinking far too often.

"Many parents don't realize how risky drinking alcohol can be for kids. There are 5,000 people under the age of 21 who die every year related to alcohol. That is a really disturbing number of people," Galson said in a telephone interview.

"Alcohol use is related to many, many types of injuries," he said, including sexual assault, falls, automobile accidents and increased rates of suicides and homicides.

Underage drinking has remained fairly stable from year to year, so "the bottom line is that the problem is not going away," Galson said.

There are 3.5 million underage drinkers each year that abuse or are addicted to alcohol, according to a report by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

The report found that 7 percent of youths aged 12 to 14 were using alcohol, compared with 27.5 percent of youths aged 15 to 17 and 51.3 percent of 18 to 20 year olds.

One in five people aged 12 to 20 have engaged in binge drinking in the past month, the report found.

More than half of underage drinkers said they were at someone's house when they had their last drink, and 30 percent were in their own home.

The Office of the Surgeon General will use the study in an underage drinking prevention campaign.