Underage Drinking: A $23 Billion Industry

About $23 billion every year is spent on alcohol that is consumed by underage U.S. drinkers, a new study concludes.

That's 17.5 percent of the total $129 billion market for alcohol in the country.

The study, using data from 2001, is detailed in the May issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

In citing other work, researchers note that people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to become dependent on alcohol compare to those who do not drink before age 21. They further point out that alcohol abuse and alcoholism cost the United States $184 billion a year, more than cancer or obesity.

The scientists say these numbers point to a twisted motivation in advertising alcohol.

"Almost all (96.8 percent) of the adult drinkers with alcohol abuse and dependence began drinking prior to the age of 21 years," the researchers write. "With at least 37.5 percent of sales linked to underage drinking and adult abusive and dependent drinking, the alcohol industry has a compelling financial motive to attempt to maintain or increase rates of underage drinking. Alcohol advertisements in magazines, for example, expose youth aged 12 to 20 years to 45 percent more beer advertisements and 27 percent more advertisements for distilled spirits than adults of legal drinking age."