- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

Underage drinkers account for 17 percent of annual alcohol sales and are far more likely than adults to be problem drinkers, a Columbia University study says.

Researchers, using data from several surveys, determined that 47 percent of people 12 to 20 years old drank alcohol in 2001 and that nearly 26 percent drank to excess or met the American Psychiatric Association’s “clinical criteria” for dependency.

In contrast, 53 percent of those 21 or older drank, but only 10 percent abused alcohol or were classified as dependent, said the study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The study appears in this month’s issue of Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.

Lead author Susan E. Foster, vice president and director of policy research and analysis at the center, said the findings show that the “federal government needs to regulate the alcohol industry and that there should be a major public-health campaign,” involving parents, schools and doctors, that is focused on underage drinking.

“There is a very strong link between underage drinking and pathological drinking … so the commercial interests of the alcohol industry directly conflict with the public health,” Ms. Foster said.

Because beer tends to be cheaper than liquors and some wines, it is the alcoholic beverage of choice for nearly three-quarters of minors who drink, Ms. Foster said.

Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute, said brewers are adamantly opposed to underage drinking and abusive alcohol consumption and cited a 2003 National Academy of Sciences report that showed most underage drinkers get alcohol from “noncommercial sources,” such as parents and older siblings.

“Over the past two decades, our members have invested more than $50 million a year on prevention programs that help parents talk to their children about this very serious issue,” Mr. Becker said.

The study says that in 2001, underage drinkers consumed $22.5 billion, or 17 percent, of alcohol sold, and that abusive consumption and dependency of both adult and underage drinkers attributed to 28 percent of alcohol sold, or $36.3 billion.

Mr. Becker said the Columbia University center gave little attention to the “substantial progress that has been made in fighting underage drinking,” which he said has been demonstrated by other federal and independent research in recent years.

He said the Federal Trade Commission has “commended the brewing industry for its efforts to prevent underage drinking” and has concluded “voluntary self?regulation is effective.”

A report last month by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found underage drinking remained virtually unchanged nationally from 2002 to 2004 and that it jumped sharply in California and Wisconsin.

Citing an error the center made in a 2002 report addressing prevalence of underage drinking, Mr. Becker said yesterday, “Clearly, CASA is engaged in issue advocacy, not objective statistics.”

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