The use of alcohol by teens has declined considerably since recent peaks in use were reached in the mid-1990s, according to the just-released 34th annual national survey in the Monitoring the Future series conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. .
Thus, alcohol has moved in parallel with illicit drug use to a considerable degree, the investigators note. The 30-day prevalence of use (reporting drinking an alcoholic beverage at least once in the 30 days prior to the survey) has fallen by 40% among eighth graders since their peak level in 1996.
The proportional declines since recent peak rates are smaller for the older students, nearly one-third for 10th graders and one-sixth for 12th graders. The upper grades showed continuing declines in use this year, but the investigators caution that the decline in 10th grade is likely exaggerated because the random sampling process yielded a few schools in the 10th-grade sample this year that had unusually low rates of alcohol use (including two schools with high proportions of Mormons).
Thirty-day prevalence now stands at 16%, 29% and 43% for the three grades surveyed -- eighth, ninth and 10th.
The greater long-term decline in use among eighth graders may well reflect the greater decline in their reported availability of alcohol. While there has been some decline in reported availability among the upper grades, eighth graders have shown by far the greatest decline. In 1996, 75% thought they could get alcohol if they wanted some, whereas by 2008 the percentage had fallen to 64.
How it works: Monitoring the Future has been funded under a series of competing, investigator-initiated research grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health. Surveys of nationally representative samples of American high school seniors were begun in 1975, making the Class of 2008 the 34th such class surveyed. Surveys of eighth and 10th graders were added to the design in 1991, making the 2008 nationally representative samples the 18th such classes surveyed.
Sample sizes in 2008 are 16,253 eighth graders in 144 schools, 15,518 tenth graders in 122 schools, and 14,577 twelfth graders in 120 schools, for a total of 46,348 students in 386 secondary schools. The samples are drawn separately at each grade level to be representative of students in that grade in public and private secondary schools across the coterminous United States. Schools are selected with probability proportionate to their estimated class size.
Peter H. Cressy, president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), released a statement saying:
"The Distilled Spirits Council is pleased to see the continued long-term decline in underage drinking. The study's authors point out that these declines may reflect the greater decline in reported availability of alcohol by those under the legal drinking age. The research is clear that most youth who drink get their alcohol from parents and other adults. While more needs to be done, clearly parents and other adults are getting the message that providing alcohol to underage individuals is unsafe, illegal and irresponsible.
"The distilled spirits industry remains committed to working to further bring these underage drinking numbers down through community outreach, prevention programs and supporting tough legislation penalizing adults who knowingly provide alcohol to youth."
The study covers alcohol, drug use, and other addictive and illicit substances. Click here for a full summary.
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