Is Underage Drinking In The US Falling?
The government’s relentless campaign against underage drinking, adopting age 21 as the minimum legal drinking age for all states and making it a criminal offense to use a fake ID, or lend or sell one all contributed to the decline of minors drinking in the United States.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that from 2002 to 2013, underage drinking fell from almost 29% to 22.7%. Binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks in one occasion, also went down from 19.3% to 14.2%.
A separate study by the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program in 2008 showed that making it illegal for anyone below 21 years old to purchase or possess alcohol resulted in an 11% drop in traffic deaths among young people. Another significant finding of the study was the reduction of traffic-related youth fatalities in states that imposed harsher sanctions on minors caught using fake IDs. Instead of simply confiscating them, penalty became the automatic suspension of their driver’s license.
In America, drinking was always seen as cool, one reason why teens do it to blend in with their peers. The downtrend seems to indicate that tougher laws helped in alcohol losing some of its appeal to the underage crowd. Although this is welcome news, authorities and advocacy groups are still concerned and there is no cessation of information campaigns, implementation of the laws and monitoring of underage drinking. A survey done in 2014 showed that there are 8.7 million American drinkers in the 12 to 20 age group. Usage rate increases with age, with less than 1% at age 12 to a high of 53% by the time these kids reach age 20.
Alcohol remains the most popular drug of choice for minors, and the earlier they start imbibing alcohol, the more likely they are to become heavy drinkers later on in their lives. Drinking below the legal age affects everyone – the drinker, families, schools and communities.
The Effects of Underage Drinking
– In school, poor grades and high absenteeism rate
– Arrest for DUI and its consequences, such as injuries or deaths of other people
– Behavioral problems, like getting involved in fights with family and in the community
– Unwanted pregnancies, unsafe sexual behavior
– Increased risk for suicide, homicide, and physical and sexual assaults
– Increased risk for car crashes and related injuries and deaths
– Stunted physical growth and emotional development
– Prone to abuse of other drugs
In 1984, all 50 states and the District of Columbia set the uniform minimum legal drinking age at 21. But other related laws vary from state to state. Some states are stricter than others with regards to use and possession. In Nevada, for example, a BAC of .02 or higher is considered a DUI. Arizona, which has a zero tolerance law on underage DUI has set the BAC limit at 0.00. A Phoenix DUI lawyer says that a person below the age of 21 can be charged with DUI if found with an unopened bottle of alcohol, sitting in the driver’s seat of a car even if the car is parked. Police officers and judges have the discretion of determining if the underage person has actual physical control of the car.
DUI arrests and convictions aside, what is more important in the matter of underage drinking is the risk for accidents of young people who drive and drink, their opportunities for future college education and employment marred by a DUI charge or conviction and their physical and psychological health that is impaired with alcohol abuse.