It’s a good day for public health officials and parents. A welcome study shows underage drinking rates have plummeted the past decade. Is the alcohol consumption among teens still too high? Absolutely, but the numbers are heading in the right direction.
The study, published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, showed the number of people ages 12 to 20 who drink drop from 28.8 percent to 22.7 percent. Its study took place between 2002 and 2013.
Another positive sign was with binge drinking. A significant concern among public health officials, its rate dropped from 19.3 percent to 14.2 percent.
It’s nice to see the decline, but the numbers show alcohol remains the drug of choice among teens. The drop is surprising, but the problem of underage drinking and binge drinking is still widespread. While binge drinking saw a decline, 14.2 percent is nothing to cheer about.
Binge drinking is still a problem, and one that needs to be addressed through more education, restricting access to alcohol for kids and more awareness of the dangers overall.
The study did push back on the notion the drinking age needs to be lowered to 18 to cut underage drinking. That proposal was in the form of a letter from a number of college and universities across the United States in 2008. All it would do is absolve the institutions of instituting programs to cut underage and binge drinking.
The report today shows the rate is dropping without lowering the minimum age.
What researchers want to know is why the drop? What is working? Is it the seminars students to attend to learn the effects of alcohol poisoning? It could also be stricter enforcement of the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act making it harder for minors to get access to alcohol.
The continual price hikes and taxes on alcohol have also placed beer and liquor out of reach. It hits a tipping point where a minor would rather spend money on something else.
There’s also a growing acceptance of a new connection. The rise of sexual assaults on college campuses and the connection with drinking alcohol. Surveys completed have pointed out a cultural shift in the past decade.
Minors are increasingly becoming hyper-aware of the dangers of drinking and its consequences. The University of Michigan’s yearly Monitoring the Future study showed the perception of alcohol among minors has shifted, just as the rates of underage and binge drinking began to fall.
They are more likely to associate alcohol with an increase in perceived risk and disapprove of drinking and getting drunk for the hell of it. If there was ever a cultural shift we can all get behind, it’s this one.
What else can be done? Repetition seems to be working. More seminars, education and enforcement of the laws. Make it to where minors look at alcohol with disdain instead of a way to celebrate a Friday night.
The numbers still show a widespread problem, but we are finally heading in the right direction on a pivotal public health and safety issue.