Teen-Age Drinking

May 15, 1981

Report Outline
Old Problem, New Concerns
Legal Battle to Control Abuse
Treatment and Prevention
Special Focus

Old Problem, New Concerns

Alcohol Abuse: Primary Youth Drug Problem

Many people view teen-age drinking as a rite of passage, a natural part of the transition from childhood to adulthood. In fact, teen-agers usually are given their first drink at home and most grow up to be fairly moderate drinkers. But there is evidence that teen-agers start drinking younger, and drink more often and in greater quantities than in the past. And the consequences of their drinking have become more serious. Around 40,000 young people are injured, maimed or killed each year in drunken driving accidents.

“Alcohol abuse is the number one youth drug problem today,” according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The dimensions of the teen-age drinking problem were underscored by two nationwide surveys conducted for NIAAA by the North Carolina-based Research Triangle Institute. Approximately 15 percent of the 10th- to 12th-graders interviewed in 1978 and 11 percent of the 7th- to 12th-graders interviewed in 1974 were either at the “substantial risk” level or were already problem drinkers.

In the early 1970s many states lowered their legal drinking age from 21 to either 18, 19 or 20, a trend that accelerated after ratification of the 26th Amendment, on June 30, 1971, giving 18-year-olds the right to vote. But now some states are having second thoughts. In the past five years 14 states have banned the sale of alcohol to 18-year-olds, and in some states, to 19- and 20-year-olds, as well. No state has lowered its legal drinking age since Alabama did so in July 1975. “Our studies have shown that ease of availability is related to heavier drinking,” said J. Valley Rachal of the Research Triangle Institute. “Those states that allow 18-year-olds to purchase alcohol have heavier drinking. And that's reflected in a growing tendency to move the laws to a higher age.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Teens and Alcohol
Aug. 18, 2006  Drinking on Campus
Mar. 15, 2002  Preventing Teen Drug Use
Mar. 20, 1998  Drinking on Campus
Jul. 28, 1995  Preventing Teen Drug Use
Mar. 13, 1992  Underage Drinking
May 15, 1981  Teen-Age Drinking
Drug Abuse
Motor Traffic Safety
Substance Abuse