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Teen Drinkers Often Intend to Get Drunk, Survey Finds


Most teens are not regular drinkers, but those who do drink on a monthly basis are frequently imbibing in order to get drunk, according to a major finding of the 2009 Teen Survey released today from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA*) at Columbia University.

About one in three U.S. 12- to 17-year-olds taking part in the National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XIV said they had previously consumed alcohol, and of these about one in four said they had a drink within the previous 30 days. Among those who had used alcohol in their lifetime, 17 percent said they usually drank to get drunk, compared to 68 percent who said that getting intoxicated was not usually their intent.

However, one-third of teens who were monthly drinkers said that they typically drank to get drunk, and 65 percent said they had gotten drunk at least once during the past month. Further, about one-third of monthly drinkers who didn’t intend to get drunk wound up getting intoxicated, anyway, according to researchers.

“The most important finding to come out of this survey for parents is that if your teen drinks monthly, odds are your teen gets drunk monthly, too,” said CASA founder and chairman Joseph A. Califano Jr.

Learn More: 2009 Teen Survey

The telephone survey of teens and parents of teenagers also highlighted links between youth drinking and illicit-drug use and parental attitudes and behaviors regarding alcohol and other drugs. Notably, 34 percent of teens said they had seen one or both of their parents drunk (including half of 17-year-olds), and those who had were more than twice as likely to get drunk themselves in a typical month. Just 4 percent of teens said they had seen their parents high on illicit drugs, however.

Overall, 90 percent of teens described their relationship with their mothers or stepmothers as “excellent,” “very good,” or “good,” and 77 percent said it was “very easy” or “fairly easy” to talk to talk to their mothers and stepmothers about drinking and other personal issues.

Seventy percent of teens rated their relationship with their fathers or stepfathers as “excellent,” “very good,” or “good,” and 56 percent said it would be “very easy” or “fairly easy” to talk to their fathers about personal issues. Moreover, 62 percent of kids said their fathers were opposed to them drinking, whereas 8 percent believed their fathers sanctioned their alcohol use.

Teens who believe their fathers would not oppose their alcohol use were two-and-a-half times more likely to get drunk on a monthly basis than those who perceived paternal disapproval of drinking.

“Some Moms’ and Dads’ behavior and attitudes make them parent enablers,” said Califano.

Youths who took part in the survey continue to report that alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs are readily available at school and elsewhere. One-third of respondents, for example, said they could obtain prescription drugs for misuse within a day, mostly from their home, parents, family members or friends — and more teens said prescription drugs were easier to buy than beer. The percentage of teens who said that marijuana was easier to obtain than cigarettes, beer or prescription drugs rose 37 percent between 2007 and 2009; 23 percent of teens now say that they could obtain marijuana within an hour if they desired, most likely from friends or at school.

On a more encouraging note, the teens surveyed by CASA had a generally high level of awareness about the risks of marijuana use. For example, 75 percent declared “false” the statement, “Because marijuana comes from a plant, it is safer than other drugs people use to get high.” Moreover, 78 percent believed that using marijuana increases the likelihood of using other drugs, 85 percent believed it is true that marijuana can be addictive, and 92 percent said it was false to assert that driving under the influence of marijuana is safe.

Sixty percent of teens said it was “very harmful” for people their age to use marijuana, while 23 percent said it was “fairly harmful” and just 15 percent thought it was “not too harmful” or “not harmful at all.” Teens were less convinced by statements that today’s marijuana is stronger than that used by their parents: 50 percent believed the potent-pot statement, while 37 percent declared it false, and 12 percent didn’t know or didn’t respond.

Just 16 percent of the teens surveyed by CASA admitted using marijuana in their lifetime, which is somewhat lower than other national surveys of youth drug use. The teen survey required prior parental consent, which researchers said may have affected responses, including possibly understating teen alcohol and other drug use rates. About one in four of the teens surveyed said their answers could be overheard by someone else in their home, which researchers said also might skew the results. 

* The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University is neither affiliated with, nor sponsored by, the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (also known as “CASA”) or any of its member organizations with the name of “CASA.”

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