The Troubling Stats on Underage Drinking

As we engage in the biennial debate about the beer tax, we tend to separate out into camps who refuse to look at the issues of the other side. I will stipulate at the outset that while I think the beer tax is absolutely the wrong prescription for underage drinking, that doesn't mean I'm cool with underage drinking.

There's an article in the paper today about binge drinking among underage Oregon teens, and the problem is very bad. According to a recent survey of Oregon 11th graders, we have a problem:
  • Almost half of Oregon's 11th-graders said they drank alcohol in the previous month.
  • Nearly 30 percent of eighth-graders said they drank in the previous month, according to the same survey.
  • Oregon eighth-graders are 76 percent more likely than the U.S. average to drink alcohol.
  • Eighth-grade girls now drink more than 8th-grade boys.
  • More than 10 percent of eighth-graders taking a 2007 national survey said they downed at least five alcoholic drinks in a sitting in the previous week. That rose to nearly 22 percent of 10th-graders and 26 percent of 12th-graders.
The article suggests that liquor is the biggest danger, but this doesn't mean the beer community doesn't have a role to play. Any group who produces or promotes alcohol has a responsibility to be more engaged in the effort to stop underage drinking. Craft brewing is about the craft of brewing, not the hooch. They're trying to produce malty works of art, not adolescent alcohol delivery systems. This is exactly why they can play a positive role--craft brewing can highlight that the joy is in the flavor, not the buzz.

We can also get active in supporting efforts like these:
Health officials and nonprofits have launched a host of efforts to warn kids and parents about the risks of binge drinking. In November, a task force presented Gov. Ted Kulongoski a five-year plan to fight underage drinking in Oregon, which called for more than $15 million in efforts, including programs to prevent youth drinking and addiction treatment.
What Oregon needs is a healthy culture of moderation, not an abstinence and binge cycle. I have always felt that Oregon craft breweries contributed to a healthy orientation toward drink, but obviously, there's work to do. This is a problem we all need to address.