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Signs of Progress

One of the most impressive public policy success stories of two decades is the progress in the fight against drunk driving and underage drinking. Yet, in many ways, the full story has not been told.

For example, many people are surprised to learn about the truly vast array of resources that are currently allocated to prevent substance abuse, including under-age drinking and alcohol abuse. Combined spending by state and federal government agencies and private foundations currently exceeds $6.4 billion annually. This supports programs and activities for:

  • prevention
  • treatment
  • education
  • research
  • training
  • outreach
  • media campaigns
  • coalitions
  • conferences
  • conventions
  • public safety

And it reflects the work of hundreds of thousands of paid professionals and volunteers. In addition to these efforts, the alcohol beverage industry also invests millions of dollars annually to promote the responsible use of its products.

A Twenty Year Success Story

It is good news that such a large commitment exists to combat alcohol abuse...but the even better news is that it's working! Virtually all indicators of underage drinking and drunk driving are at, or near, their lowest levels...ever.

For example:

Teen Drinking
In 2000, current drinking among adolescents declined slightly from 16.6% in 1999. Only 16.4% of adolescents, ages 12 through 17, report having a drink in the last 30 days, while 83.6% are not current drinkers.

College Drinking
In 2001, beer drinking among college freshmen reached the lowest level ever recorded in this survey. The percentage of college freshmen who say they drink beer frequently or occasionally is 36% lower in 2001 than it was in 1982.

Drunk Driving
The percentage of total traffic fatalities that involve a drunk driver is 34% lower in 2000 than it was in 1982.

Teenage Drunk Driving
The percentage of total teenage driving fatalities that involve a drunk teen driver is 54% lower in 2000 than it was in 1982.

Public and Private Sector Teamwork
It's not often that taxpayer dollars, private spending and volunteerism come together...and produce such dramatic results.

Let's keep up the good work!



1. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA), an annual survey representative of the U.S. population age 12+ (1999 sample size = 70,000) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency in Health and Human Services.

2. The University of Michigan Monitoring the Future, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, samples approximately 15,000 seniors in 140 public and private high schools nationwide each year and is representative of all seniors in the continental United States.

3. The American Freshman Survey (2000); sponsored by UCLA and the American Council on Education, it is the nation's largest and longest empirical study of higher education, with a sample of 1,400 institutions and more than 8 million students

4. Data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2001.


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