Grownups Give Booze to Underage Drinkers
A whopping 650,000 young adults under age 21 say a grownup -- in some cases a parent -- has supplied them with alcohol, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
This, despite the fact that the federal government virtually outlawed under-21 drinking in 1984, when Congress decided to withhold highway funds from states that didn't make 21 the legal age limit.
The survey, which asked 158,000 people ages 12 to 20 detailed questions about the behaviors and social situations surrounding underage drinking, turned up some other unsettling data. Here are some key findings:
- More than half of all people aged 12 to 20 had engaged in underage drinking in their lifetime, ranging from 11.0 percent of 12 year olds to 85.5 percent of 20 year olds.
- An average of 3.5 million people aged 12 to 20 each year meet the diagnostic criteria for having an alcohol use disorder (dependence or abuse).
- About one in five people in this age group (7.2 million people) have engaged in binge drinking -- consuming five or more drinks on at least one occasion in the past month.
- The vast majority of current underage drinkers reported being with two or more people the last time they drank; those who were with two or more people consumed an average of 4.9 drinks on that occasion, compared with 3.1 drinks for those who were with one other person and 2.9 drinks for those who were alone.
- Among those aged 12 to 14 the rate of current drinking was higher for females (7.7 percent) than males (6.3 percent), about equal for females and males among those aged 15 to 17 (27.6 and 27.3 percent, respectively), and lower for females than males among those aged 18 to 20 (47.9 vs. 54.4 percent).
I have some sympathy for young adults between 18 and 21, whom we deem old enough to enlist in the military but not to go out for a drink afterward. And it's hard for parents, too, from what I hear, to maintain a no-alcohol policy for kids in this age group, especially when they come home on break from college.
But the law's the law. And it's hard to believe that upping the drinking age hasn't saved young lives, though some do argue that point. As one who came of age when you could legally drink at age 18, I am both grateful and baffled that I made it out alive. (Let's just say there was lots of driving around with cases of beer.)
I'm curious to see the reaction to this report: will the new data spur parents to talk with their teens and young-adult children about responsible alcohol use, as the folks at SAMHSA hope they will? Or will this reignite debate about what the legal drinking age should be?
SAMHSA plans to incorporate the study's findings into a public-awareness campaign aimed at curbing underage drinking.
I'll drink to that.
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