Underage drinking has decreased substantially over the past decade, according to a new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in Rockville, MD.

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Despite falling rates of underage drinking, youths aged 12-20 still currently use alcohol more than any other substance.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report notes that there has been an increased focus over the last decade in the US to prevent underage drinking that has included national and local policy changes, community coalitions, law enforcement efforts and awareness campaigns.

Data analyzed in the study came from SAMHSA’s annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health report, which included 67,500 Americans aged 12 and older.

In 2002 – the start of the study period – 28.8% of youths aged 12-20 reported having consumed alcohol in the past month. By 2013, however, the levels of current drinking among this age group had fallen to 22.7%.

The SAMHSA report also found that current underage binge drinking – having five or more drinks on the same occasion – in the 12-20 age group had fallen from 19.3% in 2002 to 14.2% in 2013.

The authors warn, however, that youths aged 12-20 still currently use alcohol more than any other substance. The current rates of use for this age group are as follows:

  • Alcohol (22.7%)
  • Tobacco (16.9%)
  • Illicit drugs (13.6%).

Frances M. Harding, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, says of the report’s findings:

When parents communicate clear expectations and they are supported by community efforts to prevent underage drinking, we can make a difference.

However, there are still 8.7 million current underage drinkers and 5.4 million current underage binge drinkers. This poses a serious risk not only to their health and to their future, but to the safety and well-being of others. We must do everything we can to prevent underage drinking and get treatment for young people who need it.”

SAMHSA have been active in implementing underage drinking prevention campaigns, such as the Talk, They Hear You campaign that promotes communication on drinking issues between parent and child.

Talk, They Hear You involves the use of an interactive simulation in a free smartphone app that helps prepare parents for what SAMHSA describe as “one of the most important conversations they may ever have with their children.” The simulation allows parents to practice broaching the topic of alcohol, learn to ask the right questions and gives them tips to keep the conversation going.

For more information on Talk, They Hear You, play the video below:

In 2014, Medical News Today took an in-depth look at why public health campaigns continued to target underage drinking despite some studies suggesting it was a declining trend.

As part of that feature, we spoke to Shane A. Phillips, associate professor and associate head of physical therapy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who pointed out some flaws in the evidence for studies suggesting that underage binge drinking is a dying trend.

And in January of this year, we looked at a study published in JAMA Pediatrics that probed the extent to which television advertising from the drinks industry is linked with underage drinking behaviors.