March 24, 2008 -- Federal data released Monday suggest that millions of American teens are drinking frequently and heavily.
The report concludes that about 11 million adolescents and young adults between ages 12 and 20 are "current drinkers," having consumed alcohol within the past month, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health's data from 2005 and 2006.
The figures, which amount to about three in 10 adolescents and young adults below legal drinking age, are not new. But researchers said they were alarmed by other findings showing that binge drinking is a regular practice among young people. About 7.2 million of these were binge drinkers (meaning they drank five or more drinks at one time or within a couple of hours on one day or more in the past month).
Young people who drank within the last month reported drinking alcohol on an average of six days in the last month. On each of those days, they reported drinking an average of just under five drinks.
That average of nearly 30 drinks per month by more than 10 million young people has barely budged since 2002, said James Colliver, PhD, a statistician with the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
"It's remained pretty stable," Colliver tells WebMD.
Colliver says a variety of alcoholic beverages marketed to be attractive to young people are potentially counteracting efforts to reduce underage drinking. He pointed to the advent of "alcopops," fruit-flavored alcoholic drinks marketed by beverage companies since about 2001.
Government officials on Monday held the first of what they say will be 1,600 town hall meetings on underage drinking. The meetings are scheduled across the country over the next six weeks. Acting Surgeon General Steven Galson, MD, appeared in Riverton, Wyo., with Nancy Freudenthal, the state's first lady.