Why is underage drinking an important issue?
Underage drinking is a national public health issue with serious implications. According
to a study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 10 million
people under the age of 21 drank alcohol in the past month in the United States.1
However, many young people start drinking before the age of 13. 2 The
age range between 11 and 18 is an impressionable period when youth are especially
susceptible to outside influences such as peers, family members, and the media.
Monitoring the Future found that 33% of 8th graders and 70% of 12th graders in the
United States have tried alcohol at some time in their lives. The survey also found
that 13% of 8th graders and 27% of 10th graders said that they had consumed alcohol
in the 30-day period before the survey. 4
Underage drinking has severe consequences, many of which parents may not be fully
aware. Consequences may include injury or death from accidents;5 unintended,
unwanted, and unprotected sexual activity; 6, 7 academic problems;8
and drug use9.
Why is the Campaign for parents and caregivers?
Studies have shown that parents have a significant influence on young people’s decisions
about alcohol consumption,10 especially when parents create supportive
and nurturing environments in which their children can make their own decisions.11
When parents know about underage alcohol use, they can protect their children from
many of the high-risk behaviors associated with it. Furthermore, parents who do
not discourage underage drinking may have an indirect influence on young people’s
Many parents with children between the ages of 9 and 15 acknowledge that peer pressure
and media influences can often lead to alcohol use.13 To reduce the prevalence
of this dangerous behavior in youth, parents must understand the seriousness of
the problem and overcome the perceived barriers they face when talking to their
children about underage drinking. Providing parents with knowledge, tools, and confidence
is necessary to help them start the conversation about alcohol use with their children.
How was the Campaign developed?
The Campaign is built from a solid foundation, which includes a comprehensive background
study and nationwide focus groups that explored attitudes, concerns, social and
cultural context, influences on parenting behavior, and language used to discuss
underage drinking. SAMHSA also interviewed children ages 9 to 15 to learn who children
turn to for advice about alcohol. Additionally, interviews with advocacy and prevention
stakeholders, representatives from the alcohol industry, and a Technical Expert
Panel identified promising practices and opportunities for collaboration. Key findings
from these efforts include:
- Despite its prevalence, underage drinking is not a top-of-mind issue for parents;
- Children say that parents are the primary messengers for underage drinking prevention,
specifically "moms"; and
- To be successful, parents need prompts and conversation starters for talking with
Prior to launch, SAMHSA developed a national pilot site program to test and refine
Campaign creative materials and pre-test the Campaign’s national objectives at the
community level. Five pilot sites, one representing each National Prevention Network
(NPN) region, implemented and evaluated the Campaign in their communities to gauge
current attitudes, behaviors, and concerns about underage drinking while incorporating
Campaign messages into their existing underage drinking awareness activities.
The Campaign pilot sites and their corresponding NPN regions were:
- Asian Health Coalition, Chicago, Illinois (Central);
- Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, Buffalo,
New York (Northeast);
- Metropolitan Drug Commission, Knoxville, Tennessee (Southeast);
- People Reaching Out, Sacramento, California (West); and
- Summit Prevention Alliance, Frisco, Colorado (Southwest).
What are SAMHSA and CSAP?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an operating
division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is charged
with reducing the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.
The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) is one of four Centers within SAMHSA
that provides national leadership in the federal effort to prevent alcohol, tobacco,
and drug problems, including underage drinking.
To help Americans lead healthier and longer lives, CSAP promotes a structured, community-based
approach to substance abuse prevention through the Strategic Prevention Framework
(SPF). The framework aims to promote youth development, reduce risk-taking behaviors,
build assets and resilience, and prevent problem behaviors across the life span.
This approach provides information and tools that can be used by states and communities
to build an effective and sustainable prevention infrastructure.
How is "Talk. They Hear You." different from SAMHSA’s other Underage Drinking
SAMHSA first launched an Underage Drinking Prevention Media Campaign in 2005 with
the tagline "Start Talking Before They Start Drinking." SAMHSA launched a second
phase of that Campaign in 2010 called "Talk Early. Talk Often. Get Others Involved."
Now, the "Talk. They Hear You." Campaign focuses on more tailored communication
approaches to reach parents with children ages 9 to 15, an age group in which children
cite parents as the most influential people in their lives. This current effort
unifies SAMHSA’s underage drinking prevention efforts under a single initiative
and draws on the latest research about the important role parents and caregivers
play in the choices their children make about alcohol.