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NIH: Underage Drinking a Major Public Health Challenge

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When eight Luxemburg-Casco High School students were found to be in violation of the Wisconsin school's code of conduct and disciplined after Feb. 2010 photos showing them drinking alcohol were posted on Facebook, it raised controversy in their community. But they were not the first to face academic, and possibly legal consequences from their actions.

Communities around the country are grappling with underage drinking. For example: More than 100 Eden Prairie, Mo., high school students were reprimanded by school administrators, including some suspensions, in Jan. 2008, after Facebook photos showed them drinking. Several Glen Ridge, N.J. students faced suspension by school officials in 2007 because Facebook pictures showed them drinking alcohol at a off-campus party, and photos posted in Dec. 2009 on Facebook landed the Lexington, Mo. Police Chief in the unemployment line because they showed him at a party with underage drinkers.

Teen drinking has long been considered a rite of passage. Most teens drink because they want to experiment with alcohol, some drink for the thrill of it, and others say it helps them relax. Still, for others, its for all those reasons, plus they also want to get away from problems and to deal with anger or frustration issues, according to the Monitoring the Future Study, an ongoing study of the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American teens, college students and young adults the conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

Monitoring the Future found three out of every four teens have consumed alcohol (defined as "more than a few sips") by the end of high school; 41 percent of students have met that criterion by the eight grade.

Teen drinking is often looked at as a benign activity that is a natural part of maturation. Still, underage drinking has serious health and social consequences. Aside from being illegal, research shows that drinking patterns established during adolescence are likely to continue through adulthood.

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