When I was growing up in South Louisiana, the laws governing underage drinking were loosely enforced at best. Not only was the drinking age there still 18 (we were the last state to change it to 21), but no one really cared: teenagers were mostly allowed to drink and even to go to bars, as long as they acted responsibly. Obviously, that has all changed.
I do not promote underage drinking when it really means underage. For example, a 13 year old kid who drinks is setting himself or herself up for a life of problems. But if someone is old enough to drive, or vote, or go to war, then I believe they should also be allowed to drink responsibly, maybe under supervision. But I digress: obviously, there is no strict, biological, scientific number for the age that drinking should be allowed: it is a matter of cultural philosophy and politics. Even so, under a certain level of physical and psychological maturity, drinking should be forbidden because it can cause many problems.
So the good news is that, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, underage drinking has been declining steadily in the past few years, and that trend continues. Contrarily, marijuana use among young people is increasing, but that is another story. This press release from the Beer Institute is very enlightening:
WASHINGTON, DC – A recentrelease of an annual study of drug and alcohol use conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that while marijuana use was on the rise, underage drinking continued a trend downward in 2013.
Beer Institute President and CEO Jim McGreevy issued the following statement in response:
“While there is always more work to do, the fact that fewer underage youth are drinking is welcome news. America’s brewers and beer importers are committed to responsibility, and that means we are putting real money and real effort into our partnerships with law enforcement and community leaders to reduce underage drinking. These numbers prove that when we all work together, we can make a difference.”
The 2013 numbers demonstrate broad decline of underage alcohol use:
Current drinking among 12-17 year-olds has declined 34 percent decline since 2002, to a record-low level.
- Binge drinking among 12-17 year-olds has declined 42 percent decline since 2002, to a record-low level.
- Heavy drinking among 12-17 year-olds has declined 52 percent decline since 2002, to a record-low level.
The data released by HHS coincides with the 25th annual observance of National Recovery Month by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Beer Institute member companies invest in hundreds of programs and initiatives to support public safety, education and prevention of underage drinking. Brewers and importers encourage parents to talk with their teens about making good, safe decisions. Research shows that by far parents have the most influence on teens’ drinking decisions.
NSDUH is an annual survey of approximately 68,000 people throughout the country, aged 12 and older. The report findings are available on the SAMHSA web site here.
Let’s hope this trend continues, and that more and more US parents will teach their children how to enjoy quality beer and wine responsibly and moderately, so that they do not go off to college and become binge drinkers: a high risk activity. What are your thoughts on underage drinking in the US?