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Underage Drinking in 2013: The Problems and the Solutions

02/13/2012

Underage Drinking in 2013: The Problems and the Solutions
On January 30, 2013, more than 2,400 concerned prevention professionals, parents, and volunteers participated in a webinar hosted by the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking (ICCPUD). This webinar, hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as the lead agency for ICCPUD, was the first in a series on underage drinking prevention that ICCPUD member agencies will conduct this year.

Whether or not you participated, you will have an opportunity to view the complete webinar on www.stopalcoholabuse.gov. An archived version of the webinar will be posted during the week of February 11. For now, you might find the following highlights of the January 30 program and some of its data sources helpful.

Alcohol, the most commonly used drug among young people
U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin, M.D., M.B.A., opened the webinar by emphasizing that “Prevention is the foundation of our public health system.” Dr. Benjamin spoke of the relationship between underage drinking and several potentially harmful consequences for America’s youth, from compromised school performance to violence to death on the nation’s highways. She noted that “in this country, alcohol is the most commonly used drug among young people” and pointed out that underage drinking can have long-term consequences because of its effect on the developing brain.

Underage drinking is declining, but …
ICCPUD Chair and SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., reviewed some of the key highlights of underage drinking prevention efforts since the ICCPUD was founded in 2004. These highlights include the more than 8,000 underage drinking prevention Town Hall Meetings that community-based organizations, such as yours, have conducted since SAMHSA began organizing these events in 2006. The good news, Administrator Hyde announced, was that underage drinking is declining, as reported both in the 2012 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, released in December 2012, and in last September’s findings from SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health for 2011 (NSDUH). Administrator Hyde, however, also told webinar participants that the NSDUH also reports that nearly 10 million young people ages 12 to 20 are current drinkers, with 6 million of them reporting binge drinking. She promised that the 2013 ICCPUD webinars would provide the best and most current information to help those, like you, who are working to bring these numbers down.

This is your child’s brain on alcohol
Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D., Acting Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), spoke about the extent and consequences of underage drinking. He emphasized the developmental aspects, from the ways in which adolescent development affects underage drinking and the effects of alcohol use on development. Teen risk-taking and peer pressure, for example, can contribute to underage alcohol use. Underage alcohol use, in turn, can adversely affect the developing brain, both immediately and long term, by contributing to cognitive and memory impairment. Early alcohol use also poses an increased likelihood of chronic alcohol problems. These aspects of underage drinking and its consequences are discussed further in A Developmental Perspective on Underage Alcohol Use, an NIAAA Alcohol Alert. Binge drinking, Dr. Warren added, accounts for more than 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by youth. Those youth ages 12 to 20 account for 11 percent of the alcohol consumed in the United States. These statistics and more can be found in the NIAAA Underage Drinking factsheet.

Prevention works … if you work it
Frances M. Harding, Director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, devoted her portion of the webinar to a discussion of solutions to the underage drinking problem, pointing out at the beginning of her talk that “Both individual and environmental approaches are important and make a difference, particularly when used together.” Director Harding highlighted the role of parents, citing research that found 80 percent of children name their fathers and mothers as the most important influence in their decisions about drinking. She also emphasized the importance of evidence-based prevention in developing comprehensive prevention plans (see the Resources list below). As a final note, Director Harding stressed the need to address underage drinking on college campuses. More about this topic is available in Making the Grade on College Drinking Prevention, a webcast hosted by SAMHSA in 2012.