In early 2004, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) launched its Underage Drinking Research Initiative in response to new research findings about the nature and extent of underage drinking in the United States. The goal of NIAAA's initiative is a more complete and integrated scientific understanding of the environmental, biobehavioral, and genetic factors that promote initiation, maintenance, and acceleration of alcohol use among youth, as well as factors that influence the progression to harmful use, abuse, and dependence, framed within the context of overall development. All who participated are confident that increasing understanding of this phenomenon will ultimately serve to enhance prevention and treatment interventions with young people.
As a first step, NIAAA invited a small group of experts to advise Institute staff on the Initiative. After some preliminary telephone conversations, a face-to-face meeting took place on May 14, 2004, when the NIAAA Team on Underage Drinking met with an advisory panel of three experts in adolescent development, Ronald Dahl, M.D., Staunton Professor, Psychiatry and Pediatrics, Professor of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh; Ann Masten, Ph.D., Distinguished McKnight University Professor, Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota; and Linda Spear, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychology and Center for Development and Behavioral Neuroscience, Binghamton University, State University of New York. The purpose of this initial meeting was to inform the team's effort to integrate research in child and adolescent development with alcohol research. As a follow up to that initial meeting, the steering committee of experts was enlarged considerably. As it now stands, the committee of more than 25 members is comprised of experts in adolescent development, child health, brain imaging, genetics, neuroscience, prevention research, and other research fields, as well as individuals with public policy and communications expertise.
Over the course of the last few years, NIAAA held multiple meetings with the enlarged steering committee. The dynamic interaction between the developmentalists and alcohol researchers that emerged at those meetings proved very productive for the initiative. As they worked together, all participants were compelled by the accumulating database to vigorously attend to the developmental nature of the forces that influence underage drinking in all its manifestations. While in the course of discussions it became clear to all that age can serve only as proxy for these developmental forces, the group also became persuaded that conveying findings to the wider community of clinicians and researchers would be extremely difficult without recourse to age as a way of parsing findings into manageable segments. The group consensus, therefore, was to organize the information related to underage drinking by age to make it most useful to the most audiences. For example, schools are organized by age, and parents often think in terms of age when considering their children's development.
The articles in this supplement present the results of the discussions about underage drinking that took place among members of the NIAAA Team on Underage Drinking and its group of outside experts. We, the editors, believe they accurately and comprehensively address the nature of the complex relationship between development and underage drinking that was elucidated as the group interacted over time. To provide an overarching framework for the articles that follow, the first article provides a developmental framework for understanding and addressing underage drinking. The next three articles present information on underage drinking divided into three age groupings: children under age 10, early adolescents ages 10–15 and late adolescents ages 16–20. As noted above, although these articles are divided by age, we wish to make it very clear that all who participated in the deliberations of the Underage Drinking Research Initiative view development as a continuous process that unfolds in different ways for different individuals, and which is not fully captured by chronological age. For this same reason certain topics necessarily appear in multiple articles because they are not confined in the course of natural development to a single age group. Finally, to begin the transition of this basic work “from bench to bedside” the final three articles review the state of the science on prevention and treatment interventions for underage drinking.
We are extremely pleased that in publishing this supplement, Pediatrics is bringing additional recognition to the significance of underage alcohol use in child and adolescent health and development. We would also like to thank the many authors of these documents who gave so generously of their time and expertise to produce the articles included in this supplement. And finally, we wish to thank Beverly Ruffin for her assistance in formatting the articles for submission.