Study finds underage drinkers account for 20 percent of alcohol sales

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    By David Gale

    Teens and excessive drinkers account for more than half of the alcohol sales in the United States, according to a study published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    The study, conducted by the Columbia University Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, found that underage drinkers accounted for $22.5 billion, or nearly 20 percent, of all alcohol sales in 1999.

    Heavy drinkers spent $34.4 billion on alcohol, making up 30 percent of total sales, the study also reported.

    The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, along with the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture, defined heavy drinking as more than two drinks a day.

    The Columbia Study concluded that excessive drinkers and teens accounted for nearly half of the $116.2 billion spent on alcohol in one year.

    “Our research has consistently shown that alcohol is a major contributing factor in the three leading causes of teen death: accidents, homicide and suicide,” said Ellen Ross, communications director for the center.

    Former U.S. Surgeons General from the Carter, Bush, Clinton and W. Bush presidencies, as well as former First Lady Betty Ford, issued a joint statement accompanying the release of the study.

    In the statement, the U.S. Surgeons General urged the alcohol industry to form a partnership with the public health community to curb underage and excessive drinking.

    Alcoholism can be viewed as a problem in the U.S. as 1-in-20 Americans could be diagnosed for alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

    The Surgeons General encouraged parents to take a more active role in their children”s lives and to work to curb alcohol use.

    The alcoholic beverage industry responded with criticism to the study.

    Lisa Hawkins, member of the Distilled Spirits Council, issued a statement calling Columbia”s latest research “sloppy and manipulative.”

    A similar Columbia University study, released one year ago, mistakenly claimed that teenagers accounted for 25 percent of U.S. alcohol consumption, a point the alcoholic beverage industry emphasized when disputing the latest study.

    However, the Columbia study is not alone in emphasizing risky behavior among teens.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention”s 2001 study on Youth Risky Behavior showed that more than 78 percent of students had consumed alcohol during their lifetime, and nearly half had had an alcoholic drink in the past 30 days.

    Nearly 30 percent of all high school students participated in heavy or binge drinking in the month preceding the CDC survey.

    Of the students surveyed by the CDC, 13.3 percent had driven drunk within the last 30 days.

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