THURSDAY, June 1, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- The percentage of American youngsters who start drinking at an early age has declined, but youth drinking remains a serious problem, a new study shows.
Researchers analyzed three large U.S. national surveys to identify trends and characteristics of teenage drinking from 1975 onward.
They found that fewer eighth-graders start drinking early, but 10 percent of 9- to 10-year-olds still say they have already had a drink. In 2003, nearly 28 percent of underage drinkers had tried drinking before age 13. The trends were similar for girls and boys and among different ethnic groups.
"The data indicate a worsening (drinking) situation in the 1970s, with increasing numbers of youth starting to drink in the earlier grades, followed by an improving situation in the mid-1980s, by which time the drinking age had been raised to age 21 in all 50 states," the study authors wrote in the June issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
Despite the improving situation, "12.9 percent of 12-year-olds, 23.8 percent of 13-year-olds and 36.5 percent of 14-year-olds report having initiated drinking," the study found. By the time they reach Grade 8, 40 percent of young people have started drinking. That increases to about 75 percent by the senior year of high school.
Young people most often get alcohol from older peers or adults who give it to them or buy it for them.
"Underage drinking is a very serious problem that creates adverse consequences for adolescents, their families, their communities and our country," study leader Vivian Faden, of the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said in a prepared statement.
She said there are no simple solutions.
"Parents can promote an ongoing dialogue with their children about alcohol, be supportive, loving and involved in their children's lives," Faden suggested. All sectors of society -- including schools, communities, law agencies, government, and the health-care system -- have a role to play in "changing the existing culture around underage alcohol use," she added.
The Nemours Foundation has more about children and alcohol.