Press Release

SAMHSA Press Releases

Date: October 31, 2005
Media Contact: SAMHSA Press: 240-276-2130
The Advertising Council Contact: Ellyn Fisher: 212-984-1964



New PSAs say to parents – “Start Talking Before They Start Drinking”

HHS Secretary Leavitt Unveils National PSA Campaign at Underage Drinking Prevention Summit in Washington, D.C.



The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in partnership with the Ad Council, today launched a national public service advertising (PSA) campaign designed to prevent underage drinking. The campaign aims to encourage parents to speak to their children about alcohol in an effort to prevent and reduce underage drinking.

According to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 10.8 million underage persons ages 12 to 20 (28.7 percent) reported current alcohol use. About 7.4 million (19.6 percent) were binge drinkers who consumed five or more drinks on the same occasion, and 2.4 million (6.3 percent) were heavy drinkers who binge five or more times in a month. Of the 10.8 million underage drinkers, 4.4 million were youths ages 12-17. Approximately 11.1 percent of 12-year-olds reported using alcohol at least once in their lifetimes. By age 13 the percentage doubles, and by age 15 it is over 50 percent.

“Over the years we have made great progress in reducing tobacco and illicit drug use among our nation’s young people,” said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt. “Underage alcohol use has been a tougher and more persistent problem. However, I think the solutions are well within our grasp. These new ads will help us create and sustain a strong national commitment to prevent and reduce underage drinking.”

The PSAs feature children predicting the future consequences of their own underage drinking and remind parents that children who begin drinking at an early age are more likely to develop alcohol problems. The scripts feature attractive youngsters around age ten saying “in nine years I’ll be an alcoholic. I’ll start in eighth grade…”

Research shows that parents of teens generally underestimate the extent of alcohol used by youth and its negative consequences, with parents viewing underage drinking as “inevitable.” Yet, the survey shows that of the almost 7 million alcohol-dependent adults now ages 21 or older, more than one-quarter (2.0 million people) first used alcohol before age 14. About 5.5 million first used before they were age 18.  Approximately 6.6 million first used before age 21. Adults who had first used alcohol before age 15 are five times more likely to become dependent on alcohol than adults who first used at age 21 or older.

In addition to its negative impact on health, alcohol use among youth is strongly correlated with violence, risky sexual behavior, poor academic performance, alcohol-related driving incidents, and other harmful behaviors.

“We want to send a wake-up call to parents that any use of alcohol for teens involves risk, not just binge drinking or drinking and driving. Alcohol can affect the developing adolescent brain,” said Charles Curie, Administrator of HHS’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which developed the campaign. “Parents of children and teens must change their attitudes toward teen drinking from acceptance to abstinence, and recognize the importance of talking to their children early and often about alcohol, especially before they’ve started drinking.”

The new PSA campaign aims to reach parents of children ages 11-15, with an emphasis on parents of middle school children, who have children that have not yet started drinking . The PSAs reinforce the fact that children who drink before the age of 15 are more likely to develop alcohol problems and urge parents to start talking to their children about alcohol before it’s too late. The television, radio, magazine, newspaper and Internet ads direct parents to visit or call 1-800-729-6686 to get information about the short and long-term consequences of underage drinking; tips for parents on initiating conversations about alcohol; and a brochure created for the campaign. The PSAs end with the tagline: “Start Talking Before They Start Drinking.”

The Underage Drinking Prevention campaign was made possible by the leadership and advocacy of a bipartisan group of members of Congress who have worked tirelessly to address the problem of underage drinking. The coalition includes Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Cal.), Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Tom Osborne (R-Iowa) and Senators Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Mike DeWine (R-Ohio).

“Despite its extreme prevalence and serious consequences, underage drinking is far from a top of mind concern for parents of teens,” said Peggy Conlon, President & CEO of The Advertising Council. “This compelling campaign, created by The Kaplan Thaler Group, will serve as a wake up call for parents that any use of alcohol by teens can present harmful risks, and encourage them to begin a dialogue with their children while they are young.”

To view the ads, please visit Per the Ad Council model, the PSAs are being distributed to more than 28,000 media outlets in November and will run and air in advertising time and space donated by the media.



SAMHSA , is a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. The agency is responsible for improving the accountability, capacity and effectiveness of the nation’s substance abuse prevention, addictions, treatment, and mental health services delivery system. SAMHSA can be reached at .

The Advertising Council is a private, non-profit organization that has been the largest producer of PSAs in the nation since 1942. To learn more about the Ad Council and its campaigns, visit




SAMHSA is An Agency of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service