Why a Strategy Is Needed
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.
Do We Really Need a New Strategy?
[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: A Collective Responsibility, 100).
Some people have argued that recent declines in underage drinking negate the need for significant new interventions. Nonetheless, most people acknowledge that these prevalence rates for underage alcohol use are still too high and that the adverse consequences of underage drinking are enormous (Reducing Underage Drinking, 99-100).
Absent some new intervention, there is no reason to expect any further substantial decline. The problem of underage drinking in the United States is endemic and, in the committee's judgment, is not likely to improve in the absence of a significant new intervention (Reducing Underage Drinking, 101).
Designing the Strategy
In the committee's view, a strategy is better understood not as a single approach, but rather as a portfolio of approaches or instruments—a multi-pronged effort to reduce underage drinking that can be refined and adjusted as knowledge and experience accumulate (Reducing Underage Drinking, 89).
The committee has identified five goals that are pertinent to evaluating the effectiveness of a comprehensive strategy for preventing and reducing underage drinking.
- delaying onset (e.g., increasing the average age of first use or of first episode of heavy use);
- reducing the prevalence of (current) alcohol use;
- increasing the proportion of youths who are current abstainers and intend to continue to abstain until they meet the legal drinking age;
- reducing the intensity (frequency and quantity) of drinking (e.g., heavy drinking); and
- reducing the harmful consequences of alcohol use (Reducing Underage Drinking, 92).