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Study: Half of alcohol in U.S. sold to teens & people who drink too much

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A recent study concludes that underage drinkers and adult excessive drinkers are responsible for 50.1 percent of alcohol consumption and 48.9 percent of consumer expenditure on alcohol in the United States.

The report in The Journal of the American Medical Association was conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse and is being contested by the liquor industry.

“The response by the liquor industry does not surprise me,” said Barrett Duke, vice president for research with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The findings of the report are so devastating to the alcohol industry that they feel compelled to do all they can to discredit it. Despite the objections of the liquor industry, I believe this report utilized a solid methodology and that its findings are legitimate, though disheartening.”

Drinking habits of more than 200,000 people age 12 and older were studied for the report. The proportion of 12- to 20-year-olds who consume alcohol was estimated to be 50.0 percent, using data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The proportion of adults age 21 or older who consume alcohol was estimated to be 52.8 percent, using data from the Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System. The estimated total number of drinks consumed per month was 4.21 billion, and underage drinkers consumed 19.7 percent of the total.

The amount of excessive adult drinking (more than two drinks per day) was 30.4 percent. Consumer expenditure on alcohol in the United States in 1999 was $116.2 billion. Of that amount, $22.5 billion was attributed to underage drinking and $34.4 billion was attributed to adult excessive drinking.

The study also noted that underage drinking was beginning earlier, with the proportion of children who started drinking by the eighth grade increasing 33 percent from 1975 to 2001. The report said that a child who begins drinking before age 15 is four times as likely to become an alcoholic than someone who starts at 21 or later.

“It saddens me to think that so many of our youth have been enticed to engage in behavior that destroys millions of lives every year,” Duke said. “No one can estimate the full cost to our nation that alcohol abuse will exact from our youth. Many of them will never reach adulthood, many others will be crippled by alcoholism the rest of their lives, and millions will live with the scars of alcohol abuse.”

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse’s definition of “excessive drinking” has been questioned by the liquor industry, according to a New York Times article Feb. 26 on the day the study was released. A liquor industry lobbying group has vigorously attacked the study and accused its authors of “manipulating data for sensational headlines,” The Times reported.

Duke said it is inconceivable that any responsible party would seek to profit from the lives of the nation’s youth. The liquor industry has not demonstrated a commitment to protect youth from its deadly products, he said, but with their latest products — such as alcopops, fizzy soft-drink-like beverages which allow alcohol to be introduced into the bloodstream while bypassing the taste buds — expose a sinister campaign to raise up another generation of alcoholics in order to keep their profits flowing.

“In their own response to the report, the liquor industry has exposed their agenda,” Duke said.

As further proof of the liquor industry’s intentions, Duke referenced the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States’ (DISCUS) assertion that The Century Council, the liquor industry’s not-for-profit organization for responsible drinking, had spent $120 million over the last 12 years to reduce illegal and underage drinking.

“Personally, I am not impressed,” Duke said. “An industry that spends hundreds of millions of dollars to create products and advertising campaigns that are obviously targeted toward young, potential drinkers is hardly acting responsibly by spending a pitiful $10 million a year to prevent that same audience from using their product.”

Duke said it is time that Americans come to grips with the truth that the alcohol industry wants their children, and responsible adults must resolve to counter the industry’s efforts with every legal means available. Churches, he said, must become more involved in helping their youth understand the dangers of alcohol, and parents must decide to give up their own alcohol use in order to set a more positive example for their own children.

“Christians must reach out to those in their communities who are being destroyed by alcohol and provide them the support systems they need to escape the deadly grip of alcohol,” he said. “Finally, we must all insist on the introduction and enforcement of laws that protect our youth from alcohol purveyors and prosecute those who profit from the sale of alcohol to youth.”

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  • Erin Curry