More than a quarter of the American population who are too young to drink are doing so anyway according to a new report issued today by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Although there has been progress in reducing the extent of underage drinking in recent years, particularly among those aged 17 and younger, the rates of underage drinking are still unacceptably high. Not only did 26.6 percent of 12-20 year-olds report drinking in the month before they were surveyed, 8.7 percent of them purchased their own alcohol the last time they drank. The study used combined data from SAMHSA’s 2008 to 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
“Underage drinking should not be a normal part of growing up. It’s a serious and persistent public health problem that puts our young people and our communities in danger,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. “Even though drinking is often glamorized, the truth is that underage drinking can lead to poor academic performance, sexual assault, injury, and even death.”
All 50 states and the District of Columbia currently have laws prohibiting the purchase and use of alcoholic beverages by anyone under age 21.
Broken out by state, the NSDUH Report shows that the rates of underage drinking in the past month were highest in Vermont (37.0 percent) and lowest in Utah (14.3 percent). Vermont was one of six states in the northeast among the top ten states with the highest rates of past month underage alcohol use, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island. New York also had one of the highest rates (15.0 percent) of past month underage self-purchase of alcohol.
States with the lowest incidence of underage youth illegally purchasing their own alcohol included New Mexico (2.5 percent), Idaho (2.6 percent), and Oregon (2.6 percent). Southern states had some of the lowest rates of underage drinking (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia) and some of the highest rates of underage youth illegally purchasing their own alcohol (Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina).
Prevention of substance abuse and mental illness is SAMHSA’s top strategic initiative. As part of this initiative, SAMHSA conducts a number of programs and activities directed toward preventing underage drinking, including:
Every other year since 2006 SAMHSA, as the lead agency for the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking, has coordinated Town Hall meetings across the country as part of the effort to prevent underage drinking. These meetings provide communities with an opportunity to learn more about underage alcohol use and its consequences and to build their capacity in implementing evidence-based approaches that can help prevent underage drinking.
2008 and 2010 show the Town Hall Meetings led to community actions such as engagement of law enforcement and municipalities to enact policies focused on underage drinking prevention. SAMHSA also provides assistance to states and territories to produce videos that highlight successes in underage drinking prevention, share ideas, and support local prevention communication efforts.
SAMHSA’s Strategic Prevention Framework -- Partnerships for Success program provides grants to states to promote alignment and leverage prevention resources and priorities at the federal, state, and community levels to address two of the nation’s top substance abuse prevention priorities: underage drinking among persons aged 12-20; and prescription drug misuse and abuse among persons aged 12-25.
SAMHSA’s Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking (STOP) Act grants provide additional funds to current or former Drug Free Communities grantees to prevent and reduce alcohol use among youth age 12 to 20. The STOP Act grant program enables organizations to strengthen collaboration and coordination among stakeholders to achieve a reduction in underage drinking in their communities.
Through the Strategic Prevention Framework, a data-based planning process, states may use funding from other SAMHSA prevention programs, including the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant and the Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grants to address their highest prevention needs, including prevention of underage drinking.
To view the full NSDUH report “State Estimates of Underage Alcohol Use and Self-Purchase of Alcohol: 2008 to 2010,” visit:
For more information about resources to prevent and treat underage drinking, visit:
SAMHSA is a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.