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through retail or social outlets. Youth continue to experience ready access to alcohol, and 94 percent of twelfth graders reported in 2001 that it is “fairly” or “very” easy to get (University of Michigan, 2001). In a national study of adolescents in grades seven through twelve, Swahn, Hammig, and Ikeda (2002) found that youth report relatively easy access to both alcohol and guns in their home. In fact, gun versus alcohol availability was relatively similar (29 percent versus 24 percent). Purchase surveys reveal that anywhere from 30 percent to 70 percent of outlets may sell to underage buyers, depending on their geographical location (e.g., Forster et al., 1994; Forster, Murray, Wolfson, and Wagenaar, 1995; Preusser and Williams, 1992; Grube, 1997). Even at the lowest end of this range (30 percent), seven tries at different outlets will yield a 92 percent successful purchase rate. Given the likelihood that social networks of youth will share information about outlets at which alcohol has been purchased successfully, the estimated maximum of six unsuccessful tries prior to almost certain purchase is conservative. Focus groups have also indicated that underage youth typically procure alcohol from commercial sources and adults or at parties where parents and other adults are not present (Jones-Webb et al., 1997; Wagenaar et al., 1993). Wagenaar et al. (1996) have reported that 46 percent of ninth graders, 60 percent of twelve graders, and 68 percent of youth aged 18 to 20 obtained alcohol from an adult on their most recent drinking occasion. Commercial outlets were the second most prevalent alcohol source for youth aged 18 to 20. The source of alcohol varies by age group, as shown in Table 7-1 (Wagenaar et al., 1996). Students in ninth grade rely on home sources of alcohol much more than the older students. The reliance on home supply declines significantly by the end of high school. Of particular note is that social sources, that is, other persons either underage themselves or persons of legal age, were the predominate sources of alcohol for all age groups.

A similar finding from other studies suggests that younger adolescents’ primary sources of alcohol are older siblings, friends and acquaintances, and adults (through third-party transactions) as well as parties (Harrison,

TABLE 7-1 Source of Alcohol by Age Group (all numbers in percentages for current drinkers over the past 30 days)

Source of Alcohol

9th Grade Students

12th Grade Students

Youth Ages 18-20

Commercial alcohol outlet








Another person under age 21




Another person age 21 or older





SOURCE: Wagenaar et al. (1996).

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