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Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth

Understanding Youth Drinking

Excerpts from Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility

All text in this fact sheet is excerpted directly from Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility, a 2004 report from The National Academies.

[M]any social, cognitive, and contextual factors are related to the reasons that adolescents drink. In a culture that promotes alcohol use, it is impossible to isolate one factor as the primary cause. Rather, understanding why adolescents drink is more likely to be found in the confluence of factors (Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility, 86).

Adolescents in the United States grow up in a world filled with messages about alcohol. Most of the messages present drinking in a positive light, and most of them show alcohol as a normal part of adult and teen social life. Warnings against underage drinking from parents or in health class may well be drowned out by the barrage of daily messages about alcohol in daily life (Reducing Underage Drinking, 70).

Recent content analyses indicate that alcohol use was depicted, typically in a positive light, in more than 70 percent of a sample of episodes in prime time television programming in 19991 , and [alcohol use was also depicted] in more than 90 percent of the two hundred most popular movie rentals for 1996-19972 (Reducing Underage Drinking, 79).

The alcohol industry spent $1.6 billion on advertising in 2001, and probably twice that much in other promotional activity (Reducing Underage Drinking, 79).

[T]here has not been a steady decline in underage drinking over the past two decades. Instead, the decline in the prevalence of underage drinking was limited to the period from around 1981 to 1992, and the rates have been relatively stable since then. To explain this period, we can identify three things: a parallel decline in use of illegal drugs, a raise from 18 to 21 in the minimum drinking age across the country, and intensive campaigns to discourage drinking and driving and to encourage use of designated drivers (Reducing Underage Drinking, 100).

[W]hatever the reason for the decline in youth drinking during the 1980s, it seems to be related to, and perhaps in some sense is the result of, the overall decline in drinking in the society (Reducing Underage Drinking, 81).


  1. P.G. Christenson, L. Henriksen, and D.F. Roberts, Substance Use in Popular Prime-Time Television (Washington, DC: Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2000), 2. [For the fall 1998-1999 season.]
  2. D.F. Roberts et al., Substance Use in Popular Movies and Music (Washington, DC: Office of National Drug Control Policy, 1999), 3.
  3. Ibid.