Underage Drinking Common

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Even with the penalties and programs in all states to eliminate alcohol sales to minors, they still don’t seem to have much of a problem obtaining alcohol. And lots are.

According to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, youths are drinking illegally at a surprising 25% average, with many states topping 35%.

According to reporting in Medical News Today, Vermont has the highest percentage of underage persons who have used alcohol (37%) and Utah the lowest (14%). To count as a positive in the survey, adolescents had to report drinking at least once in the past month. And in spite of laws against it, 8.7% of those who drank purchased their own alcohol.

While substantially less than the adult drinking rate (51%), the number of underage drinkers is still shockingly high. It’s cause for concern because we know that drinking habits are established early on, and the earlier someone starts drinking the more likely it is he or she will become a problem drinker or an alcoholic.

There is also a significant question raised by these data. If the rate is still so high, even after the anti-drinking messaging we communicate to our young, what, if anything, can be done? Access is still a big deal, with almost all alcohol consumed coming free from an adult who purchases legally. Is there a way to reduce this supply? No one really knows, although there doesn't seem to be any PSA’s out there advising against providing alcohol to minors.

Another factor that seems to play strongly are cultural values transmitted by religion. Although Utah is a striking example of religious values lowering alcohol consumption (in both adults and minors), it has been shown to work just as effectively with Native Americans and their cultural traditions. Those who adopt a value system that avoids alcohol also avoid alcohol. And this may be the final message: as long as our society continues to promote alcohol consumption, our young people won’t believe us when we tell them it is harmful. A simple case of, “Do as I say, not as I do.” They are young, but they aren’t stupid. If being an adult means drinking, and they crave adulthood, they will drink.

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