Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How do underage drinkers access alcohol?

The Prevention WINS Retail Outreach Workgroup met earlier this week and continued planning for conducting alcohol purchase surveys (APS).  The APS will help the coalition better understand the role grocery stores, convenience stores, and other stores that sell beer and wine play in minor's access to alcohol.

The Washington State Healthy Youth Survey includes a question about alcohol access: During the past thirty days how did you usually get alcohol? (Choose all that apply.)  Most northeast Seattle high school students said that they did not get alcohol in the past month. Those students that said that they do drink alcohol, said they got it the following ways:

I got it from friends -- 50.0%

I got it at a party -- 39.3%

I gave money to someone to get it for me -- 23.6%

I got it at home with my parents’ permission -- 15.7%

I bought it from a store -- 15.0%

I took it from home without my parents’ permission -- 12.2%

I got it some other way -- 11.4%

I got it from an older brother or sister -- 9.3%

I got it at a family celebration, ceremony, or party -- 7.8% 

Focus groups conducted with northeast Seattle high school students confirm these findings about how teenagers access alcohol. The most common answer focus group participants gave was that teenagers get alcohol from friends who are older and/or look older.  

But the answers to the HYS questions do not tell us how the friends got the alcohol; if the person they gave money to is someone they know and if that person is 21 or older; or how the alcohol got to the party.  It could be that all three ways cited in the HYS are really only one way: teenagers bring alcohol to parties after buying it with money their friends gave them.  Maybe the 15% of kids who say they bought it from a store are supplying most of the alcohol to the rest of the underage drinkers.  Our coalition chose to do alcohol purchase surveys, in part, to help us answer some of our questions about access.

A few years ago, our coalition tried to get the liquor license revoked from a convenience store near Eckstein Middle School.  The store had a long, documented, history of selling to minors.  Knowing that they sold to minors, and hearing from kids in focus groups that there are certain mini-marts that are easy to buy from, the coalition chose the APS strategy to gain more information.  (A “reward & reminder” component is included as a prevention strategy.)  If it turns out that the convenience store near Eckstein is an anomaly, that the vast majority of convenience stores in our community do not sell to minors, then we can cross off retail access, collect more local access-related data, and start looking at other strategies that have proven to reduce youth access to alcohol.

The Retail Outreach Workgroup will meet again on August 30.  All coalition meetings are open to anyone interested in preventing underage drinking and youth substance abuse.

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