Over a quarter of the population in the United States who are under the legal drinking age are drinking anyway, according to new research by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

There has been reported progress made in decreasing the degree of underage drinking recently, specifically in kids aged 17 years or younger, however, the rates of underage drinking remain unreasonably high.

In previous research underage alcohol use has been associated with adolescent brain development and future alcohol-related problems.

The current research used data from SAMHSA’s 2008 to 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), and found that 26.6 percent of 12-20 year olds said they drank in the month prior to being surveyed. It was also reported that 8.7 percent of these teens purchased their own alcohol the most recent time they drank.

AMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde said:

“Underage drinking should not be a normal part of growing up. It’s a serious and persistent public health problem that puts our young people and our communities in danger. Even though drinking is often glamorized, the truth is that underage drinking can lead to poor academic performance, sexual assault, injury, and even death.”

The District of Columbia and all 50 states presently have laws restricting the purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages by any person under the age of 21.

The report which is divided by state, shows that underage drinking was most common in Vermont (37 percent) and least common in Utah (14.3 percent), within the past month. Among the top ten states with the highest levels of drinking in the past month, Vermont was one of the six located in the northeast in addition to New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. New York had one of the highest levels of alcohol purchased by underaged people at 15 percent.

The states with the lowest prevalence of underage drinkers buying their own alcohol included New Mexico, Idaho, and Oregon in descending order. Rates of underage drinking were lowest in the southern states of: North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, West Virginia, Alabama, West Virginia, and Arkansas. The states with the highest rates of underage youth buying their own alcohol included North Carolina, Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Alabama.

SAMSHA’s number one initiative is prevention of substance abuse and mental illness. To engage this initiative, SAMSHA runs several activities and programs aimed towards stopping underage drinking.

SAMSHA is the lead agency for the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking and has organized Town Hall meetings all over the United States to contribute to the prevention of underage drinking. The meetings give communities a chance to learn more about the use of alcohol among youths and its results, as well as to encourage their choices in setting up evidence-based approaches that prevent underage drinking.

Results from 2008 and 2010 established that the Town Hall Meetings caused community involvement such as law enforcement engagement and application of policies aimed at underage drinking prevention.

SAMSHA also helps states and territories to make videos and emphasize accomplishments in underage drinking prevention, share ideas, and give support to local efforts.

SAMSHA provides grants through the Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking Act (STOP) which gives extra funding to current or previous Drug Free Communities grantees to stop and prevent alcohol use among kids aged 12 to 20. These grants give organizations the chance to strengthen coordination among stakeholders in order to produce a decrease in underage drinking.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald