Despite Drop in Teen Drinking, Levels Are Still High

Nearly half of all 12th graders drink alcohol, new survey finds

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HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Sept. 16, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Levels of teen drinking, while down from a generation ago, are still high enough to pose considerable health risks, a new federal study finds.

"We've seen that while the levels of drinking among teens are down from the highs in the 1970s, the curve has flattened out. And over the past 10 years we haven't really made a dent in the number of kids engaging in this behavior," said study author Vivian B. Faden, associate director of the Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

"This study means that we probably need to do things differently than we have in the past," Faden said.

Alcohol is the "number one" drug of choice among children and adolescents and its abuse contributes to a wide variety of academic and social problems, risky sexual behavior and motor vehicle crashes, Faden said. This makes it imperative to find new ways to curtail drinking among youngsters, she added.

The study appears in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

For the study, Faden and her colleagues analyzed three federally funded national surveys that studied teen drinking by using a new statistical tool called "joinpoint" analysis, a method that enabled them to look at all the data simultaneously. This ability to analyze a large amount of data provided a sophisticated and objective overview of the trends in teen drinking, Faden said.

"This method allowed us to pick up significant changes in the direction of drinking levels," Faden said. One of the key findings: Although alcohol-consumption rates have declined since the 1970s, perhaps due to changes in minimum drinking age laws, rates of drinking since 1990 by children ages 12 and 18 have remained relatively stable.

These stable rates reflect a still unacceptably high rate of consumption, Faden said.

Rates for any alcohol drinking in the 30 days before the surveys ranged from 20 percent of eighth graders to nearly half of all 12th graders. Rates for binge drinking over a previous two-week period ranged from 12 percent of eighth graders to 29 percent of 12th graders. Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks at one time for a girl, and five or more drinks at one time for a boy, Faden said.

Clearly, more needs to be done to keep children from drinking, said Faden, who is a team leader on a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism project that is studying new ways to reduce teen alcohol consumption.

"We are in a position to amplify the science and envision that the next generation will have more tools and will be more effective than we have been in the past in increasing understanding about this problem," she said.

Michael Nuccitelli, executive director of SLS Health, an adolescent and early adult drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Brewster, N.Y., agrees that more attention must be paid to alcohol consumption by young people. He thinks one answer is to focus more attention on the problem.

"Those drinking rates [in the survey] are very close to the rates in our patient population," he said. "And in order to continue the decline in adolescent alcohol abuse, there needs to be an ongoing education campaign."

"Everybody pooh-poohed Nancy Reagan's 'Just Say No' program, but there was a lot more focus in the '80s on alcohol and drug prevention. I can't recall the last time I saw an alcohol-prevention commercial on television," he said.

More information

To learn more about the consequences of alcohol abuse, visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

SOURCES: Vivian B. Faden, Ph.D., Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bethesda, Md.; Michael Nuccitelli, PsyD., executive director, SLS Health, Brewster, N.Y.; September 2004 Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

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