WASHINGTON — Americans need a wake-up call about the widespread use of alcohol by millions of underage drinkers, acting Surgeon General Kenneth Moritsugu said Tuesday.
Moritsugu issued a report that he said was designed to get all sectors of society involved in solving a major health problem. He described alcohol as the drug of choice for teens.
The 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates there are 11 million underage drinkers in the United States. Nearly 7.2 million are considered binge drinkers, typically meaning they drank more than five drinks on occasion.
“Alcohol remains the most heavily abused substance by America’s youth,” Moritsugu said. He said the report calls for a “change in the culture and attitudes toward drinking in America. We can no longer ignore what alcohol is doing to our children.”
Moritsugu urged more research on adolescent alcohol use and its relationship to physical and mental development. He said there is new research that indicates alcohol may harm the development of the brain in adolescents.
Although there has been a significant decline in tobacco and illicit drug use among teens, underage drinking has remained at consistently high levels, he said. In part, that high use stems from tolerance by adults.
“Too many Americans consider underage drinking a rite of passage to adulthood,” said Moritsugu. “Research shows that young people who start drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to have alcohol-related problems later in life.”
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