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SAMHSA's Underage Drinking Campaign Logo. Talk. they hear you

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. 3

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 alcohol use.12

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 their children.

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 Prevention Campaigns?

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.