Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Column Archive |  On Twitter: J Huget and MisFits  |  Fitness & Nutrition News  |  RSS Feeds RSS Feed

Underage drinking abounds

It's generally agreed that drinking alcohol -- in moderation, of course -- can help keep you healthy.

As I write in today's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, for instance, recent research suggests that moderate drinking can confer cardiovascular benefits.

But only if you're an adult. Kids who drink alcohol are at increased risk of the three leading causes of death among young people -- accidental injury, suicide and homicide -- and of abusing alcohol as adults, among other problems, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

So it's disturbing to see the results of a survey released Monday that show that more than a quarter (27.6 percent) of people aged 12 to 20 had consumed alcoholic beverages in the month before being questioned. The survey of 19,176 people in that age group, conducted from 2006 to 2008 by SAMSAH SAMHSA, also found that in some states that number topped 40 percent.

The District of Columbia had the highest percentage of young people -- 18.8 percent -- who'd bought their own booze the last time they drank. The national average was 8.6 percent.

On one hand, you could look at the survey as delivering good news: after all, three-quarters of our kids haven't had a drink. But that doesn't mean we should ignore the minority of kids who have.

SAMSAH SAMHSA, in cooperation with the Ad Council, has launched an updated version of their five-year-old public-service campaign to address the issue. It encourages parents and kids to talk about alcohol and its dangers. The campaign and study's release coincide with Alcohol Awareness Month, which starts Thursday, and as part of the Surgeon General's "Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking."

None of us wants to think that our kid is that one-out-of-four who's messing with alcohol. But we can't all be right.

Want to tweet about it? Look for me and the other Local Living writers at @wposthome/local-living. And keep track of my "Me Minus 10" effort to lose 10 pounds before I turn 50 at

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  April 1, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Alcohol and Drugs , Family Health , Nutrition and Fitness , Teens  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Is smiling the fountain of youth?
Next: Is that right? Milk makes hair shiny?


"more than a quarter (27.6 percent) of people aged 12 to 20 had consumed alcoholic beverages in the month before being questioned."
"On one hand, you could look at the survey as delivering good news: after all, three-quarters of our kids haven't had a drink."

Which is it? Did 27.6% drink within the last month, or is that number the amount who have ever had a drink? As a high-school student, I would guess the percentage who've had a drink at all is closer to 90%.

Posted by: reb5 | April 1, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

What a messed-up, infantilized society we live in, where a 12-year-old drinking is lumped into the same statistical category as a 20-year-old drinking.

America's crazily high drinking age is a rarity among nations. Most countries are very culturally accepting of letting teen-agers have an occasional drink at family social occasions, and very few countries prohibit 18 year olds from drinking. As a result, alcohol has no "forbidden fruit" allure, and their youth -- unlike Americans -- don't go on habitual wild drinking binges.

Americans patriotically sing about "The Land of the Free", while remaining completely ignorant about how much MORE free many other countries are.

Posted by: 12008N1 | April 1, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

It's amazing that SAMHSA equates 12 year-olds drinking with 20 year-olds drinking. But given that they do, it should be no surprise that the genuine problems of youth drinking persist, despite SAMHSA's efforts.

"So it's disturbing to see" the Post repeat this absurdity without even the mildest questioning. Yet with commendable courage, this blog boldly challenges (twice) the government on the correct spelling of SAMHSA.

Posted by: hungrypug | April 1, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

It's disturbing that the author can't tell the difference between a 12-year-old drinking and a 20-year-old drinking. The United States is the only country in the world, with the exception of some Islamic countries, where the drinking age is above 18. Ridiculous!

Posted by: AnonymousBE1 | April 1, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Those aged 18-20 are also adults and not "kids" or "teens", meaning they shouldn't be called those words. The drinking age must be lowered to 18 along with education and licensing. A young woman or young man who drinks alcohol responsibly enjoys the benefits of alcohol in moderation as older people. The report by the SAMHSA is being interpreted incorrectly because the reason why alcohol poisoning among those 18-20 is high because the ageist drinking age of 21 encourages alcohol abuse by those 18-20. Ageism is the reason for this. The Suregon General as an ageist for saying that "underage" drinking is dangerous in any circumstance, including drinking responsibly by those 18-20. The reason for ageism in the United States is because of people who use stereotypes to justify oppression, sometimes causing self-destruction among young people because of it regarding alcohol.

Posted by: LibertyForAll | April 1, 2010 10:53 PM | Report abuse

Reagan, in 1984, signed into law the Uniform Drinking Age Act mandating all states to adopt 21 as the legal drinking age within five years. By 1988, all states had set 21 as the minimum drinking age.

Presidents from more than 100 of the nation's best-known colleges call on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18. It is not only MADD, it is crazy to outlaw beer and pot for people 18 years of age.

The Reagan years were a disaster for younger people. Just say no to beer and pot was the dumbest thing they could have done. Treating 18 year olds as infants just makes younger people disrespect our laws, which they feel deserves no respect.

Posted by: alance | April 1, 2010 11:04 PM | Report abuse

I see I'm not the only one who was dismayed that this article referred to 18-20 year olds as "kids" rather than adults.

Posted by: dhb2 | April 2, 2010 12:39 AM | Report abuse

In New York State restaurants, parents may legally order alcoholic beverages for their children of any age. Customers below the age of 21 may not order.

Posted by: cbarris | April 2, 2010 3:37 AM | Report abuse

Give me a break. I drank in college and in HS in the late 80's and early 90's. All of my friends did. We didn't turn out to be druggies or alcoholics. Those who did were likely going to be that anyway. We need to stop this culture of infantilizing our youth. They need to learn how to manage situations that they are going to encounter when mommy and daddy are not around. Teach your kids moderation and they will be fine.

Posted by: chynna12169 | April 2, 2010 7:07 AM | Report abuse

"accidental injury, suicide and homicide -- and of abusing alcohol as adults"
This article is ridiculous. Adults who drink are at the same risk for these things as young people who drink. I never met an adult alcoholic who didn't drink. The drinking age should be back at 18. Check out this web site for rational information about adults who are 18-20 and alcohol.

Posted by: rosepetals64 | April 2, 2010 7:33 AM | Report abuse

I hate to disabuse people of the notion that all is well in countries where people under 21 can drink legally, but it's not.

The United Kingdom is the best example. Binge drinking by those in their late teens/early 20s is epidemic, fueled by the fact that supermarkets offer cut rate prices on mass quantities of cheap alcoholic cider and lager (think something cheaper and more tasteless than even Budweiser.) Also there has been a rise in bars offering "all you can drink" specials.

These kids (and I will call them kids) aren't enjoying a quiet drink in a pub with their pals. They are buying 30 packs of beer or cider, going to the park or wherever, getting blind drunk and then fighting and raising hell in downtown areas.

The problem has gotten so bad that the UK government is proposing a dramatic increase in the tax on packaged cider and beer and bars are going to be forbidden from offering all you can drink specials.

Binge drinking really can lead to death by fight or accident or simply by alcoholic poisoning.

Posted by: jhpurdy | April 2, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Interesting article. The survey in question actually does break down the age ranges into narrower caregories, but I imagine it was difficult to get that level of detail into the article. Our society needs to have a serious conversation about this issue. Its true that many people drink in their youth with little adverse consequence. It's also true that for many underage drinking is the beginning of an unhealthy pattern of behavior with has serious and destructive long-term effects. The drinking age is a tough one, we are out of step with the rest of the world, but the evidence is pretty clear that a lower drinking are will result in more traffic fatalities and other adverse consequences. It's easy to fire from the hip on this one, but I think we can all agree that youth can be involved in more productive and meaningful activity than repeated binge drinking. We can also probably agree that responsible use of alcohol isn't really a bad thing.

Posted by: poppycock | April 2, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

The drinking age is a tough one, we are out of step with the rest of the world, but the evidence is pretty clear that a lower drinking are will result in more traffic fatalities and other adverse consequences.

And yet somehow the rest of the world manages to function with a lower drinking age. This country needs to get off its' highhorse and learn from other countries for a change.

Posted by: Axel2 | April 2, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

According to the 26th ammendment (the one that gave 18 year olds the vote) you are legally an adult at 18.

I suppose if they raised the drinking age to 70 there would be even more "underage" drinking.

Posted by: jeff20 | April 2, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Chynna is correct. Most people who drink in their teens won't end up as alcoholics. Those who do end up as alcoholics are people who would have done so no matter when they started drinking.

Posted by: foxtrot1 | April 2, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Notice that the cure for binge drinking in the UK proposed by its government is not to prohibit alcohol for those under 21 but to raise the tax to a level that would discourage consumption just as this country has tried with some success with cigarettes. Prohibiting alcohol and other harmless drugs has failed here consistently and should be repealed.

Posted by: rkthomas2mriscom | April 2, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Alcohol use (even moderate) is actually shown to cause cancer. There are some studies which suggest benefits for the heart, but that's in much older people. Starting drinking at a young age seems to be a very bad idea, if you want to protect the health of young people

Posted by: hithere2 | April 2, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

Physiologically people shouldn't get drunk until their mid to late 20's to ensure their brains stop growing before they start killing parts off with alcohol...

That funny point aside, there's some good reason to work on improving the transition to adulthood & alcohol in US culture. If you're under 18 it really is better to stay away from alcohol. It's addictive, like nicotine is.

Posted by: Nymous | April 4, 2010 4:07 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company