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SAMHSA Press Releases

Date: March 28 , 2006
Media Contact: SAMHSA Press
Telephone: 240-276-2130


1200 Town Hall Meetings To Confront Underage Drinking as National Problem

Federal initiative urges parents to "Start Talking before They Start Drinking”



Nearly 1,200 town hall meetings are being convened today around the nation as part of a campaign to prevent underage drinking. The town hall meetings are spearheaded by a Federal Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking, chaired by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in partnership with state and local agencies and organizations. Meetings are being held in all 50 states, four territories, and the District of Columbia.

Alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among America’s youth, a cc ording to SAMHSA’s 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. A higher percentage of young people, ages 12 to 20 use alcohol than use tobacco or illicit drugs. As many as 4.4 million teens ages 12-17 report current alcohol use. Over 11 percent of 12 year olds reported using alcohol at least once. By age 13, the percentage doubles. By age 15, it is over 50 percent. Further, research has found that adults who first used alcohol before age 15 are five times more likely to report dependence on or abuse of alcohol than adults who first used at age 21 or older.

"Underage drinking is not inevitable, as some parents may think,” said Charles G. Curie, SAMHSA Administrator. "For too long, underage drinking has been accepted as a rite of passage in this country, and far too many young people, their friends and families, have paid the price. It’s time to change attitudes toward teen drinking from acceptance to abstinence. It’s time to get real, get focused, and push back. It’s time for parents and teachers, clergy and coaches to talk with children early and often about alcohol, especially before they’ve started drinking.”

For teens, any use of alcohol – not just binge drinking or drinking and driving -- involves risk. Alcohol use can affect the developing adolescent brain. Further, alcohol use among youth is strongly correlated with violence, risky sexual behavior, poor academic performance, alcohol-related driving incidents, and other harmful behaviors.

Research shows that parents of teens generally underestimate the extent of alcohol used by youth as well as the harm drinking can do. Parents also underestimate the extent to which their opinion matters to their children. Parents’ disapproval of underage alcohol use is one of the key reasons young people choose not to drink.

While the format and style will reflect that of the individual community, each town hall meeting has adopted the same theme: "Start Talking before They Start Drinking”. Each meeting is bringing together public officials, parents and youth with community leaders and organizations in health, education, law enforcement, highway safety, and alcohol control to learn more about science and consequences of underage drinking, and to discuss how their community can best prevent underage alcohol use by reducing demand, availability and access. Each seeks to offer parents and other concerned adults the knowledge and tools to connect with today’s youth about underage drinking.

The town hall meetings are supported by the involvement of a growing number of governors and state first ladies, many of whom have championed the effort to reduce and prevent underage drinking in their states. Some have written to town hall meeting conveners to support their efforts; others are participating in town hall meetings themselves; still others are participating in broadcast town hall meetings. A number of states have issued gubernatorial proclamations or legislative resolutions declaring March 28, 2006 as Underage Drinking Awareness Day.

These nationwide town hall meetings, however, are only part of a larger initiative to curb and eliminate underage drinking as a serious public health issue in the nation. A recently released series of television, print, radio, and internet public service announcements, developed by the Ad Council with SAMHSA, were distributed to more than 28,000 media outlets and are now airing nationwide. The PSA messages target parents of children ages 11-15 with the "start talking before they start drinking” message. In addition, a collaboration between SAMHSA and Scholastic, Inc., Reach Out Now, is bringing the message about the dangers of underage drinking into 5 th and 6 th grade classrooms nationwide in early April for the fifth consecutive year, again emphasizing talking early and often with children before they begin illegal alcohol use. Teach-ins for the students, led by community leaders, reinforce the message.

"Town hall meetings, PSAs, and the Reach Out Now materials are only the beginning,” Curie said. "Each community is being encouraged to think about how it can plan and implement a comprehensive long-term approach to preventing underage drinking.”

Information on the town hall meetings and the Start Talking Before They Start Drinking initiative is available at or call 1-800-729-6686. To learn more or to get information about the short and long-term consequences of underage drinking, including tips for parents on initiating conversations about alcohol, visit or call 1-800-729-6686.


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.

Town hall meetings are sponsored by the Federal Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking, which includes the Administration for Children and Families, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Trade Commission, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, Office of the Surgeon General, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.



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