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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Report to Congress on the Prevention and Reduction of Underage Drinking

Underage drinking and associated problems have profound negative consequences for underage drinkers, their families, their communities, and society as a whole. Underage drinking contributes to a wide range of costly health and social problems, including motor vehicle crashes (the greatest single mortality risk for underage drinkers); suicide; interpersonal violence (e.g., homicides, assaults, rapes); unintentional injuries such as burns, falls, and drowning; brain impairment; alcohol dependence; risky sexual activity; academic problems; and alcohol and drug poisoning. On average, alcohol is a factor in the deaths of approximately 4,700 youths in the United States per year, shortening their lives by an average of 60 years (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] Alcohol-Related Disease Impact [ARDI] software, 2009b).

Data show modest reductions in underage drinking and some progress toward the goals of the Comprehensive Plan to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA], 2006), but there is still cause for concern. For example, in 2009, 39 percent of 20-year-olds reported binge drinking (drinking at levels substantially increasing the risk of injury or death) in the past 30 days; about 14 percent of 20-year-olds had, in those 30 days, binged five or more times.

Although drinking levels are lower at younger ages, patterns of consumption across the age spectrum pose significant threats to health and well-being. Particularly troubling is the erosion of the traditional gap between underage males and females in binge drinking. This gap is disappearing as females’ drinking practices converge with those of males. Thus, females are at increasing risk of alcohol-related mortality and morbidity, including sexual violence.

Still, there is reason for optimism. As discussed in Chapters 3 and 4 of this Report, States are increasingly adopting comprehensive policies and practices to alter the individual and environmental factors that contribute to underage drinking and its consequences; these can be expected to reduce alcohol-related death and disability and associated health care costs. These efforts can potentially reduce underage drinking and its consequences and change norms that support underage drinking in American communities.

Read Full Report (PDF)