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Last modified: Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Survey findings reveal how Indiana youth access alcohol

June 30, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A survey of Indiana high school students found that three-quarters of those who drank alcohol recently said they usually gave someone money to buy alcohol or someone gave it to them at no cost. Around 5 percent of the teens successfully attempted to purchase alcohol from a retailer as their usual way of obtaining it.

"Although it's against the law to provide alcohol to minors, the survey confirms that adults are the primary source of access for youth," said Ruth Gassman, executive director of the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "Many parents may not realize or wish to acknowledge that providing alcohol in their home to youth or a keg at a graduation celebration is against the law."

The biennual Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) conducted by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released results from the 2009 survey that examined youth health-risk behaviors in six categories, including alcohol and drug use. The IPRC worked with the Indiana State Department of Health, which coordinated the administration of the YRBS in Indiana, to include additional questions about youth access to alcohol.

Other major survey findings:

  • Almost two-thirds of students who attempted to purchase alcohol in a store in the past month were not asked to show proof of legal age.
  • More than 80 percent of the students who drank recently said they usually drank at either their home or someone else's residence. Almost half of those students reported an adult 21 or older was present at the home. A higher prevalence of younger students reported they drink at home without an adult present.
  • Students who drank reported liquor, such as vodka, rum, scotch, bourbon, or whiskey, as their most common beverage. Gassman said this indicates the types of alcohol the youth are obtaining in their homes.

Gassman said it is critical to identify the primary sources of alcohol access so that efforts can be focused on eliminating them.

"We know that limiting access to alcohol reduces underage drinking," she said. "Since most youth obtain their alcohol from willing adults, we need to implement efforts to prevent adults from providing it to them."

One such effort is the mandatory carding law that goes into effect July 1. It will require establishments selling "carry out" alcohol to check identification of all buyers, regardless of their apparent age.

"This law will take the speculative guess work out of the employee's ability to correctly card someone," said Lisa Hutcheson, director of the Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking. "We know that minors attempt to use IDs that do not belong to them, or that are not valid to purchase alcohol. This new law will hopefully encourage them to think twice before they attempt to use an illegal ID."

According to the survey, half of the students who drank alcohol in the past month said they usually drank liquor, compared to one-quarter who reported beer as their usual alcoholic drink. Age, again, was significantly correlated with drinking patterns; a higher proportion of older students indicated beer as their usual alcoholic beverage.

"The fact that younger students reported a higher prevalence of drinking liquor is alarming and tells us what types of alcohol they are obtaining in their homes," Gassman said. "Parents and other adults who reside with underage persons in the home need to be aware this is occurring and secure liquor so it is inaccessible."

She said there are many ways that communities can lessen the availability of alcohol to young people.

"The YRBS survey findings suggest the need for communities to institute ordinances to hold adults accountable for furnishing alcohol to minors." Gassman said. "Communities can also adopt policies that limit the number and density of alcohol outlets, as well as strengthen and enforce laws aimed at alcohol retailers."

Other strategies can be found in the report: "Strategies To Reduce Underage Alcohol Use: Typology and Brief Overview," prepared by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. The report can be found at Below are some of the recommendations in the report:

  • Compliance checks -- A police officer watches while a person under age 21 attempts to purchase an alcoholic beverage.
  • Alcohol-server training -- Educate and train servers on penalties, signs of intoxication and checking for false identification.
  • Social host ordinances -- Increase penalties and/or make it easier to prosecute adults for providing alcohol to underage youth.
  • Shoulder taps -- A police officer watches while a person under age 21 asks an adult in the parking lot of an alcohol retailer to purchase alcohol for them.

The IPRC is funded by the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration/Division of Mental Health and Addiction.

For questions related to the YRBS survey and its findings, please contact Rosemary King at 812-855-9150 and For more information about the IPRC, in the School of HPER's Department of Applied Health Science, visit