Working to Prevent Underage Drinking

Recently, several high-profile news articles have brought new attention to underage drinking. In Washington, D.C., a local high school principle sent an email to parents imploring them to not provide alcohol to underage students. Also in Washington, a former high school quarterback was charged with vehicular manslaughter after leaving a house party where a seemingly knowing parent allowed underage drinking to occur. And finally, a ballot initiative was just filed in California to lower the drinking age from 21.

MADD is committed to the health and safety of our young people. We applaud Walt Whitman High School Principal Alan Goodwin for taking a stand and encouraging parents to stop underage drinking. Parents are the biggest influence on their children, and this program will help keep your child safe, and we have proven tools like the Power of Parents that can help. 

MADD takes our mission to prevent underage drinking seriously, and we want to remind parents and teens that the consequences of underage drinking can be devastating. The 21 minimum drinking age is one of the most researched and reviewed public health laws in our country.  Recent studies show that the adolescent brain is continuing to develop until young people reach their mid-twenties. It is important that we continue to support the 21 drinking age to keep our children safe and healthy.  

Underage drinking is an adult problem. In order for those under 21 to obtain alcohol, an adult somewhere must break the law. For parents who provide or permit underage drinking in their home, the episode in Washington is stark reminder of the consequences. Not only was the father given a citation of $5,000, which could have been $60,000, but two young people lost their lives. All of this is 100 percent preventable.  

Some parents still believe that “all kids drink underage” and that “it’s safer under my watchful eye.” After all, Europeans drink at age 18 and their society is flourishing, right?  These three myths couldn’t be further from the truth.  

The truth is, the majority of teens don’t drink.  In fact, less than 30 percent of teens have had a drink in the past month. And only 20 percent of teens binge drink. So, not everyone is doing it!  Research proves it’s never safe to let children drink. 

And when teens feel they have their parents’ approval to drink alcohol, they tend to drink more — and more often — outside the home. What seemed harmless at first often results in tragic consequences that even parents don’t anticipate.

Finally, in Europe, young people have higher intoxication rates than in the United States, and less than a quarter had lower or equivalent rates to the United States. Also, a greater percentage of young people in a majority of Europe report binge drinking at higher rates than their U.S counterparts. Most European youth have higher rates of alcohol-related problems because of their heavy drinking.

MADD continues to speak out about the dangers of underage drinking. We have made too much progress to see effective laws like the 21 drinking age discarded. We encourage you to support the 21 drinking age and talk to your kids about the dangers of underage drinking. Together, we can make a difference and end underage drinking.

Parental influence is the most important factor in helping keep kids safe, and MADD’s Power of Parents® program focuses on educating parents and caregivers about the dangers of underage drinking, and provides them the tools they need to talk with their kids about alcohol. Visit to download our Parent Handbook and get tips and tools to help you have this lifesaving conversation about alcohol with your kids.

The Problem of Riding with a Driver Who is Under the Influence

This is a guest post written by Brittney Hultgren M.S., a Graduate Assistant at Pennsylvania State University and coauthor of a paper on factors that can influence adolescents' decisions to ride with drinking drivers. 

Each year hundreds of passengers are killed in car crashes with drivers who had been drinking.1 The numbers could become higher.  Our work shows nearly 1 in 4 college students ride with drinking drivers.2 Despite the prevalence of this high risk behavior, there has been very little research devoted to understanding why it occurs and how to change it from happening. 

What can be done now?

Our research with college students suggests potential strategies to help reduce riding with drivers who are under the influence.2

  • Parents- Our research showed that what parents do can be very influential. Parents should be made aware that when they get into cars with drivers who have been drinking they are also influencing their children’s decisions to be passengers in cars with drivers who have been drinking.
  • Peers- Our research showed that peers have the potential to really impact their friends’ decisions to ride.  One of the strongest predictors of students’ willingness to ride in cars with drivers who have been drinking was whether they thought their closest friends would approve or disapprove of them being passengers when the drivers have been drinking. #protecturfriends

What can we do for the future?

Riding with a drinking or drugged driver is an issue that affects our entire society, and therefore we need all levels of society to make strides to reduce it.

  • Research- Our work suggests research is needed to answer the questions of Why do people decide to ride with someone who has been drinking or using drugs? and What can we do about it?  Right now, there is very little research to fully answer these questions and inform the development of effective interventions.
  • Schools and Social Media- While schools have been the traditional setting to provide students information about riding with drinking drivers, it is evident that students are consistently connected on social media. Thus, this may be a good avenue to target and reach them.  MADD has done a great job at branching out in the social media world. Partnering schools with a social media approach could be an especially strong way to reach students both for research and prevention.
  • Businesses- Businesses have the ability to promote behaviors, such as safe driving and alternatives to being a passenger in cars when drivers have been drinking. Fortunately, we have leaders such as State Farm who strongly encourage these behaviors and support programs like MADD and the scientists who work with MADD.  We encourage more business leaders to partner with MADD and researchers to answer important questions and inform the development of effective interventions.

While there is much more work to be done to reduce riding with drinking and drugged drivers, there are many different parts of the solution.  Step up and make a difference!

1 NHTSA. (2013). Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).
2 Hultgren, B. A., Scaglione, N. M., Cleveland, M. J., & Turrisi, R. (2015). Examination of a dual process model predicting riding with drinking drivers. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 39(6): 1075-1082.
3 NHTSA. (2015). Fact sheet: National roadside survey of alcohol and drug use by drivers. Washington, DC.
4 Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2012). Monitoring the Future national results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2011. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.

New Published Research Reinforces the Importance of Underage Drinking Prevention

HealthDay reported today on new research published by the American Academy of Pediatrics on the risk factors in early adolescence that later lead to driving under the influence and riding with a drinking driver. 

Of note in the research are five things that, if they happen at age 14, predict that as an older teen, they will commit DUI or ride with a drinking driver:

  • If they’ve been exposed to peer marijuana use
  • If they’ve used alcohol in the past month
  • If they have positive beliefs about marijuana
  • If there is marijuana use in their family
  • If they perceive alcohol as prevalent

This new, third party data reinforces much of what MADD has said for years – that underage drinking is dangerous and can lead to serious, often deadly consequences. One of MADD’s most important mission prongs is the prevention of underage drinking.

It is crucial not only for parents to talk with their children about underage drinking prevention, but also for teens to understand the important role they play in protecting themselves and their friends from underage drinking and related consequences, such as riding with a drinking driver.

That’s why MADD developed two programs to make the prevention of underage drinking a community-wide priority. The first program, Power of Parents®, equips parents and caregivers with the tools they need to have early, ongoing conversations with their children about the dangers and consequences of underage drinking. The second program, Power of You(th)®, empowers teens to take a stand and help their peers, adults and entire communities understand the importance of underage drinking prevention.

This October, MADD and community partners across the country are promoting the Power of You(th) program’s #ProtectUrFriends campaign, empowering teens to protect themselves and each other from the dangerous and often deadly consequences of underage drinking. Together, we can create a community-wide priority to prevent underage drinking and its tragic consequences to keep our teens, roads and communities safe.

For more information about MADD’s underage drinking prevention programs and this October’s #ProtectUrFriends campaign, click here

Our Programs are filled with "Power"

MADD’s Power of Parents® and Power of You(th)® programs are just what they say in their titles… filled with “power.” Parents and peers are the most important influencers children have. I know that all too well, because our son Dustin made a fateful decision to get into a car that was driven by someone underage and under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

The night he died, he was sober and was wearing his seat belt. However, as a teenager, he was either too young and inexperienced to make a better decision or didn’t realize the extent of the driver’s impairment.

As a parent, I had conversations with Dustin about the very situation that killed him. We had talked about never drinking under the age of 21, about never drinking and driving, and never getting into a car driven by someone who had been. Most of Dustin’s friends were non-drinkers… but not the person driving the car on this night.

The power of the parent was overcome by the power of the youth; a person who regretfully showed no remorse for her actions. That’s why the right message coming from both parents and youth is so important.

So, as someone who has lost a child, I encourage parents to continue to talk to their children early and often about the dangers of drinking and about riding with someone who has.

I also want to encourage teenagers to give their friends the same message they’re hearing from their parents. I know now Dustin’s friends wish they had given that message to him so he could be with us today.

Real friends should be talking with each other about NOT drinking alcohol before the age of 21, about NOT drinking and driving and about NOT

getting into a car with an impaired driver. Protect your friends – empower each other to take a stand.

Today’s social norms have to be changed – drinking and driving is a violent crime. Let’s encourage our kids to talk to their friends about the risks of riding with someone who is drinking. Your friendship won’t be harmed – in fact…I believe it will be strengthened.

Sarah Haiken Story

The Haiken family began volunteering with MADD New York in 2009 after a crash that hit too close to home, like many of our dedicated volunteers. A family friend and 43-year-old mother of two was killed on her way to her job at LaGuardia Airport in New York. The driver was uninjured and had two prior DUI convictions.

A middle school student at the time, Sarah Haiken immediately saw the senselessness of the tragedy and vowed to do something about it. She began volunteering with her local MADD chapter and in 2012 – as a high school freshman – Sarah was selected to join MADD’s first-ever National Teen Influencer Group.

She and her mother, Cheryl, visited the MADD National Office, where Sarah took part in the teen review committee that helped shape what is now the cornerstone of MADD’s Power of You(th)® program – “The 411 on Teen Drinking” booklet. Since that time, Sarah has remained actively involved locally as well as nationally by returning to the National Teen Influencer Group each year. This year, Sarah is a senior and beginning her 4th year as an active member of the group. Not only has Sarah’s involvement with MADD grown over the years, but so has her family’s. Last year, her mother Cheryl became Chair of the MADD New York State Advisory Board.

Sarah is forever going above and beyond to participate in and expand MADD’s mission. This summer, she helped conduct a Power of You(th) training at MADD’s National Conference in Washington DC; conference attendees ranked this session in the top 5 for the entire conference.

Also this summer, Sarah contacted and requested an internship with Dr. Robert Turrisi at Pennsylvania State University, the lead researcher behind MADD’s Power of Parents program. Dr. Turrisi accepted Sarah into his program, in part due to her dedicated work with MADD.

As she undertakes her senior year of high school, Sarah has elected to become more involved in saving lives and preventing underage drinking by continuing to work through Pennsylvania State University. She will conduct her own research study this year under the supervision of Dr. Turrisi, focusing on the motivations behind high school students who are willing to ride with a drinking driver. Sarah will begin her research at the end of September and hopes to release her findings by the end of the school year.

What started as a teen coping with a tragic loss by reaching out to MADD has evolved into a young woman with a bright future and a true difference maker – inspiring her family, her community, and people across the country to create a future of No More Victims™!

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