Waking up with a head the size of Kansas after Chad threw a rager because his parents were out of town is a rite of passage – one that fewer and fewer teens are partaking in, it would seem. A study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) finds that from 2003 to 2013, alcohol use among people aged 12 to 20 declined from 28.8% to 22.7%.
Additionally, “binge drinking,” which stuffy scientists define as five or more drinks in one sitting, is down among the same age group as well, from 19.3% to 14.2%. If teenagers aren’t willing to risk their health in the name of a good time, what chance do any of us have?
SAMHSA attributes to the decline to better communication between teens and their parents.
“When parents communicate clear expectations and they are supported by community efforts to prevent underage drinking, we can make a difference,” said Frances M. Harding, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP). “However, there are still 8.7 million current underage drinkers and 5.4 million current underage binge drinkers. This poses a serious risk not only to their health and to their future, but to the safety and well-being of others. We must do everything we can to prevent underage drinking and get treatment for young people who need it.”
Despite the decline in abuse, alcohol remains the most popular drug among underage users. Tobacco follows, used by 17% of underage teens, with illegal drugs bringing up the rear at 13.6%.
Current drinking rates are still problematic for parents and community officials, mainly due to the negative externalities associated with alcohol use. It’s strongly tied to increased risk of sexual assault, for example, and drunk driving presents a risk of death to both teen drinkers and anyone else on the road. While tobacco use is dangerous for other reasons, it’s unlikely anyone died from driving while sparking up.
SAMHSA’s “Talk. They hear you.” campaign is intended to encourage parents to have what may seem like difficult conversations with their children. There’s even a mobile app with simulations designed to assist parents with bringing up the topic of alcohol and keep the conversation going.