PARENTS EVERYWHERE received welcome news last week: underage alcohol use has decreased significantly in the past decade. Better still, binge drinking among minors has also declined. Cause and effect is always hard to determine in these matters, but the many prevention measures adopted in recent years by governments, schools and other public service organizations seem to be having an impact.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the proportion of people ages 12 to 20 who drink has dropped from 28.8 percent to 22.7 percent from 2002 to 2013, and the proportion of those who binge drink, from 19.3 percent to 14.2 percent.
The study’s findings suggest that states need not lower the drinking age to 18 — as a number of college and university chancellors and presidents urged in a 2008 letter — to cut down on underage and binge drinking. That would absolve educational leaders of the responsibility to implement effective solutions to the alcohol-related problems facing their schools, when last week’s report indicates that responsibility is exactly what it takes to get the job done.
A number of catalysts could have spurred the decline in underage drinking. Along with stricter enforcement of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act enacted in 1984, price and tax hikes on beer, wine and liquor have made alcohol less available to minors. But the past decade also has brought about an evolution in how young people view alcohol.
Ad campaigns and educational seminars stressing the dangers of drunk driving and alcohol poisoning seem to have made students warier of drinking large amounts. There’s also been growing attention to the connection, highlighted in a recent Post survey, between sexual assault on campus and alcohol consumption. This hyper-awareness of drinking and its consequences may be contributing to a cultural shift: According to the University of Michigan’s yearly Monitoring the Future study, minors have reported increased perceived risk and disapproval rates of underage drinking and drunkenness since 2000, just as heavy drinking itself has declined.
Of course, better does not mean perfect. The decrease in consumption comes as a surprise to most precisely because underage drinking remains widespread. Alcohol is still the most common drug young people use illegally, and the current numbers on binge drinking are hardly rosy. Many teenagers continue to be at risk. In the coming years, efforts must build on the progress of the past decade.