Tuesday, 02 May 2006 00:00

Underage Drinking Nets Alcohol Industry Billions

TUESDAY, May 2 (HealthDay News) -- Of the estimated $128.6 billion spent on alcohol in the United States in 2001, $22.5 billion (17.5 percent) was consumed by underage drinkers and $36.3 billion (28.3 percent) was attributable to abusive or dependent drinking by both underage and adult drinkers, a new study shows.

"With at least 37.5 percent of sales linked to underage drinking and adult abusive and dependent drinking, the alcohol industry has a compelling financial motive to attempt to maintain or increase rates of underage drinking," concluded researchers at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, New York. "Alcohol advertisements in magazines, for example, expose youth aged 12 to 20 years to 45 percent more beer advertisements and 27 percent more advertisements for distilled spirits than adults of legal drinking age," they said.

The study appears in the May issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

The researchers analyzed information on 260,580 people, age 12 years and older, from several national databases to estimate the commercial value to the alcohol industry of consumption by underage and abusive and dependent drinkers.

Among those ages 12 to 20, over 47 percent were current drinkers and close to 26 percent met the criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence, compared to 9.6 percent of drinkers age 21 and older who met the criteria. Pathological drinkers consumed three times as much alcohol per month as drinkers who did not have abuse or dependence problems.

"Almost all (96.8 percent) of the adult drinkers with alcohol abuse and dependence began drinking prior to the age of 21 years," the study authors wrote.

The bottom line: "The financial interests of the alcohol industry appear to be antithetic to the public health interests of the nation in preventing and limiting pathological drinking," the authors suggested.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism offers advice for parents about discussing alcohol with their children.