Underage drinking is a serious problem for our society. [ From reports in the media, one gets the impression that it is getting worse ever year and that even casual teenage drinking carries with it devastating implications for our youth, including increasing the alcoholism rate of those who drink early and even death. Do the statistics support these stories?
Can you honestly say that you never drank alcohol during high school? If so, you are in a distinct minority: nearly 80% of high school seniors admit to at least trying a drink and about 50 percent
report having consumed alcohol during the last month. While these numbers are down from their peaks in the late 70s and early 80s, a large majority of young people still drink regularly long before they reach the legal age of 21.
Clearly, efforts to eliminate underage drinking have failed. It is also plain that many successful Americans have a history of high school and college alcohol use - sometimes involving of periods of excess. If youthful drinking were a genuine bar to political office, higher education or career advancement, government, academia and industry would grind to a halt.
Nonetheless, the media and some activist groups, government agencies and foundations constantly promote the idea that most teen drinking is extremely risky and carries a high probability of causing alcoholism or death. For example, an August 2004 press release from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the National Liquor Law Enforcement Association screams, "The carnage caused by underage drinking in America is unrelenting," and notes that alcohol kills "6.5 more kids than all other drugs combined."
Similarly, a recent CNN medical segment ["Teenage binge drinkers are more likely to become adult alcoholics" 6/16/04"] reported that a study had found that teen binge drinking was linked to an increased risk for alcoholism. CNN mentioned that 70% of teens binge drink - but ... (More)