By Steven Reinberg
THURSDAY, June 26 (HealthDay News) -- More than half of American teens say they've consumed alcohol, and more than 40 percent of those children say they sometimes get their alcohol free from an adult, a new federal survey found.
Among the country's estimated 10.8 million underage drinkers, more than 40 percent said they got alcohol free from an adult during the past month. One in four said they got the alcohol from an unrelated adult, one in 16 got it from a parent or guardian, and one in 12 got the alcohol from a family member, according to the survey.
"There are a relatively large number of persons aged 12 to 20 who consume alcohol," said James Colliver, a statistician with the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). "A number of them are likely to get alcohol from a parent or another family member or other adult.
The survey, Underage Alcohol Use: Findings From the 2002-2006 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, was a nationwide review based on data from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, and included a random sample of 158,000 people 12 to 20 years old.
"In far too many instances, parents directly enable their children's underage drinking -- in essence encouraging them to risk their health and well-being," Acting Surgeon General Dr. Steven K. Galson said in a prepared statement. "Proper parental guidance alone may not be the complete solution to this devastating public health problem -- but it is a critical part."
Underage drinking is responsible for more than 5,000 deaths of people under 21 each year in the United States, according to the report.
Among those surveyed, about 7.2 million said they had taken part in binge drinking -- defined as drinking five or more drinks on at least one occasion -- in the past month. The rates of binge drinking were significantly higher among those living with a parent who was also a binge drinker.
"This report provides unprecedented insight into the social context of this public health problem and shows that it cuts across many different parts of our community," SAMHSA Administrator Terry Cline said in a prepared statement. "Its findings strongly indicate that parents and other adults can play an important role in helping influence -- for better or for worse -- young people's behavior with regard to underage drinking."
Other findings in the report include:
- More than half of those 12 to 20 engage in underage drinking. This ranges from 11 percent among 12 year olds to 85.5 percent among 20 year olds.
- Among people 12 to 20 years of age, some 3.5 million meet the criteria for alcohol dependence or abuse each year.
- Most underage drinkers (80.9 percent) said they drink with two or more people and consume about 4.9 drinks. Those who drink with fewer people consume about 3.1 drinks, and those who drink alone about 2.9 drinks.
- For those 12 to 14 years of age, the rate of current drinking was higher for girls than boys (7.7 percent versus 6.3 percent). For those 15 to 17 years old, the rates for boys and girls were similar. Among those 18 to 20 years old, the rate was lower for girls than boys (47.9 percent versus 54.4 percent).
- Among underage drinkers, 53.4 percent drank at someone else's house, while 30.3 percent drank in their own home, and 9.4 percent drank at restaurants, bars or clubs.
Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said the problem is obvious, but the solution is elusive.
"Alcohol consumption by under-age drinkers is a significant, if stable, public health concern, contributing to thousands of highway fatalities and innumerable other ills each year," Katz said.
Less clear than the persistent presence of the problem is the solution, Katz said. "We have a good picture of the problem, but no clearly established solution," he said.
"Responsible parenting seems to be part of the solution -- with the current data suggesting that children emulate their parents in this, as in most behaviors," Katz said. "Other societies, notably France and Italy, make alcohol a routine part of family dining, and may thereby reduce its mystique to adventurous teens."