Underage alcohol use, binge drinking continues to fall

A new government report found that both drinking and binge drinking among young people fell significantly between 2002 and 2013.

The percentage of underage people who drank declined from 28.8 percent to 22.7 percent. The proportion of binge drinkers – people who consumed five or more drinks during one occasion – decreased from 19.3 percent to 14.2 percent, according to the report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The study is the latest evidence that alcohol might be losing some of its allure for underage youth, defined in the study as 12 to 20 years old.

Based on the survey, which involved more than 30,000 people in that age group across the country, there are about 8.7 million underage drinkers in the United States, and about 5.4 million were binge drinkers.

The survey also found that alcohol remains the preferred substance of abuse among youths. Seventeen percent of respondents reported using tobacco while 13.6 percent reported using illicit drugs, the report said.

The study is consistent with the findings of other surveys over the past few years and coincides with campaigns by federal and local governments to reduce underage drinking.

The efforts are framed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a response to what experts consider a major health problem. Underage drinking, officials warn, can slow brain development and contribute to incidents such as violence, car crashes and drowning.

Alcohol is a factor in the deaths of some 4,300 underage drinkers each year and in hundreds of thousands of hospital visits, according to the CDC.

Federal and local governments have been encouraging parents to talk to their children about alcohol use at an early age. SAMHSA developed a campaign called “Talk. They Hear You,” featuring a mobile app with interactive games to help parents prepare for conversations with their children.

“Our target is to change social norms,” said Frances Harding, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. “Have norms been changed? Absolutely.”

A study by the University of Michigan last December found that high school students increasingly looking askance at drinking to excess on weekends, with about 75 percent of seniors disapproving of it.

Meanwhile, binge drinking among the general population has remained flat. Most deaths associated with alcohol poisoning occur among white men ages 35 to 64, not in the college-age population.

Overall, the survey of 67,000 people found that just over half of Americans in 2013 reported being drinkers while 23 percent, which would translate to about 60 million people, reported being binge drinkers, the agency reported.

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