Underage drinking ruins lives and harms communities.
Sandra Lommen was a 20-year-old college freshman in Minnesota when she fell in a creek and froze to death. Alyssa Jo Lommel was a sophomore at the University of Minnesota Duluth when she was found lying on a neighbor’s porch in 17 below zero weather. She survived but parts of her hands and feet were amputated. University of Michigan student, Byung Soo Kim celebrated his 21st birthday by trying to drink 21 shots of whiskey. He made it to 20 before he passed out, turned blue and stopped breathing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet:
• Excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths among underage youth each year, and cost the U.S. $24 billion in economic costs in 2010.
• Although drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal, people aged 12-20 years drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. More than 90% of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinks.
• On average underage drinkers consume more drinks per drinking occasion than adult drinkers.
• In 2010, there were approximately 189,000 emergency room visits by persons under age 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol.
The 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, during the past 30 days:
• 35 percent drank some amount of alcohol.
• 21 percent binge drank.
• 10 percent drove after drinking alcohol.
• 22 percent rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
In 2013 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services submitted a report to Congress on the prevention and reduction of underage drinking. The report indicated that 89.9 percent of 12th graders said it was easy or very easy to obtain alcohol. A total of 80.5 percent of college students drink with 36.1 percent meeting or exceeding the minimum binge drink criterion of five drinks per occasion. Children with parents who binge drink are twice as likely to meet alcohol-dependence criteria.
A mile-for-mile comparison reveals that teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers. Among those 16 to 20 years old, at blood alcohol levels of 0.08 percent, male drivers were 52 times more likely than sober male drivers the same age to die in motor vehicle crashes.
A significant number of homicides and suicides among teenagers is attributable to alcohol. For all homicides combined, nearly one-third are alcohol related. Among suicide victims tested, who were aged 10-19, 12 percent had blood alcohol levels over 0.08 percent. For the population as a whole, an estimated 50 percent of violent crime is related to alcohol use by the perpetrator.
Underage drinking has proven to play an important role in risky sexual behavior, including unwanted, unintended, and unprotected sexual activity. Approximately half of all reported and unreported college sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both.
Other problems connected with underage drinking include reduced brain development and academic performance. It is reported that 40 percent of people who began drinking before age 13 will be classified as alcohol dependent at some time in their lives. By comparison, the rates of alcohol dependence among those who started drinking at age 17 or 18 were 24.5 percent and 16.6 percent respectively.
Some colleges are prohibiting alcohol on campus in an effort to create a safer environment for their students. A study entitled, "Alcohol Use and Problems at Colleges Banning Alcohol," found that: "Students at ban colleges were 30 percent less likely to be heavy episodic drinkers and more likely to abstain from alcohol. The lower rates of heavy episodic drinking apply to students whether or not they were heavy episodic drinkers in high school. However, among drinkers, students at ban schools engaged in as much extreme drinking as drinkers at schools that do not ban alcohol and experienced the same rate of alcohol related problems. At schools that ban alcohol, fewer students experienced secondhand effects of the drinking of others than did students at nonban schools."
The conclusion was: "A campus ban on alcohol may support abstention from alcohol use and reduce heavy episodic drinking and the associated secondhand effects in college." This shows that less access to alcohol has translated into less alcohol consumption and a decrease in all the problems associated with alcohol.
Another analysis in the American Journal of Public Health investigates "Drinking Patterns in U.S. Counties from 2002-12." This report confirms the logical conclusion that people in dry counties generally drink less than those living in wet counties. The study divides drinking rates into three categories. "Any" drinking is defined as consuming at least one alcoholic drink per month. "Heavy" drinking is an average of one or two drinks per day over the past month. "Binge" drinking is four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men on a single occasion at least once during the past month.
For example in 2012, 43.8 percent of Sebastian County residents consumed alcohol as compared to 39.7 percent of Crawford County residents. The Sebastian County heavy drinking rate was 6.4 percent for that year and Crawford County was 6.1 percent. The binge drinking rates were not shown for Arkansas. Study after study has revealed that increased access to alcohol leads to increased consumption and increased alcohol related problems. Undoubtedly, if Crawford County were to go wet, it would substantially increase underage access to alcohol either through the willingness of adults to furnish alcohol to minors or the use of fake identifications. Why would we as a community support that prospect?
The prevention of underage drinking basically boils down to education and denying access to alcohol. One of the very successful attempts to prevent alcohol problems during adolescence was Project Northland in Minnesota. The project combined individual based strategies to encourage youths not to use alcohol with community based strategies to reduce alcohol availability and change community attitudes concerning youth drinking.
Phase 1 of the program involved establishing two groups of sixth graders. One group was called the intervention group. For three years this group received intensive class instruction, peer reinforcement, and parent-child communication about the negative consequences of alcohol use and were positively encouraged to resist the temptation of alcohol. This group was compared to a control group that did not receive the additional aid to avoid alcohol use. At the end of phase 1, the intervention group demonstrated statistically significant reductions in the onset and prevalence of drinking as compared to the control group. The reductions were attributed to changes in peer norms and peer drinking behavior and the strategies that discouraged alcohol use, according to student survey responses.
In the ninth and 10th grades, interventions were reduced to a minimum with just five classroom sessions to dissuade alcohol use. By the end of grade 10, no significant difference existed between the two groups. In grades 11 and 12, interventions again increased with classroom curriculum, parent postcards, mass media involvement, youth development activities, and community organizing. With the interventions restored, by the end of the 11th grade, alcohol use had significantly declined again in the intervention group. This experiment proves that a well planned intervention program that includes strategies with schools, extracurricular, family, and community involvement does work to reduce underage alcohol consumption.
This is the kind of cooperation that the surgeon general envisioned in 2007 when he issued a call to action to prevent and reduce underage drinking.
The conclusion of that message recognized the need to coordinate efforts to reduce the underage drinking problem: "As the call to action makes clear, each of us has an important role to play in the prevention and reduction of underage drinking through our individual and collective efforts, ensuring that the future America offers its youth is neither shortened nor impaired by the consequences of alcohol use. This call to action is exactly that - a call to every American to join with the surgeon general in a national effort to address underage drinking early, continuously, and in the context of human development. Underage alcohol use is everybody’s problem - and its solution is everybody’s responsibility."