Addressing the Problem of Under-Age Drinking in the United States

Underage drinking is one of the most prevalent and serious health problems facing youth today. Alcohol is widely used along with other drugs. Learn about addressing the problem of under-age drinking within the United States.

Under-Age Drinking

More than half of America’s teens will have at least one drink by age 15. Young people between the ages of 12 and 20 consume 11% of all alcohol in the United States. Young people drink less compared to adults but often drink more because young people binge drink (more than 5 drinks in one occasion). Thousands of young people die each year due to dangers of underage drinking.

Historical Facts

In 1984, the National Drinking Age Act was passed which raised the drinking age to 21 years old. Many shifts in thought and policy have occurred over the years regarding underage drinking. While Prohibition ended with the passage of the 21st amendment in 1933, the drinking age was established at 21 years of age. It is felt by many others the underage drinking laws have contributed to further drinking concerns with teens, driving it further underground and hiding it from plain sight.

Other Countries

European countries tend to have lower drinking ages as opposed to the United States. The common misperception is that young people in European countries are introduced to alcohol in more cultural and familial contexts which reduces harmful binge drinking. Underage drinking rates from European countries compared to underage drinking rates in the United States demonstrate a majority of European countries have higher intoxication rates among young people compared to that of the United States. However, European countries show a greater percentage of young people have been intoxicated prior to age 13 compared to American youth. Where the drinking age is 18, it appears young people are getting more intoxicated at higher rates than where it is age 21.

The Big Question

Countries like Italy, Iceland, France and Belgium keep underage drinking rates down while the legal drinking age is lower than the United States. It may be a combination of alcohol along with the familial context in which people drink. Curbing and preventing underage drinking with US teens is complex and focuses on a host of factors such as social and environmental issues. While environmental approaches can be effective, other levels of intervention including school-based intervention programs, efforts to help and empower parents to improve communication with kids about drinking may help change the way young people think about drinking.

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