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Background: Underage drinking carries a high risk of injury. An important approach for reducing underage drinking is limiting youth access to alcohol. Underage drinkers obtain alcohol from multiple sources and patterns of access may vary by region. We examined patterns of access to alcohol and alcohol use among youth in a local court-ordered diversion program for first-time adolescent alcohol offenders as a basis for designing and evaluating community prevention efforts.

Methods: Youth in the program completed a survey of demographic data, type of offense, source, setting, and quantity of alcohol consumed at time of offense, and 1-year alcohol-related high-risk behaviors. Significance was attributed to p <= 0.05.

Results: Completed surveys were obtained from 1,158 (84.8%) of 1,366 eligible participants during the 23-month study period. There were 71% males and 29% females with a mean age of 17.2 years (range, 12-24 years). Respondents were Caucasian (64.5%), Hispanic/Latino (19.9%), Asian (3.5%), African American (2.5%), and others (9.6%). Offenses included minor in possession (55.8%), driving under the influence (21.2%), and drunk in public (20.4%). Consumption at time of offense was one or less drinks in 36.3%, two to five drinks in 31.7%, and 32.0% reported six or more drinks. Social sources of alcohol (got it from someone else) were reported by 72.9% and commercial sources (bought it or took it from a store) were reported in 11.9%. The two most common places of consumption were someone else's home (30.7%) and the beach (14.6%). Multiple 1-year high-risk behaviors were reported and 41.0% drove after drinking or rode with someone else who had been drinking. Binge drinking (5 or more drinks for males; 4 or more drinks for females) was reported by 43.1% of males and 36.7% of females. All high-risk behaviors were more common in binge drinkers (p < 0.001). Drinking and driving or riding with a drinking driver was reported in 54.2% of those who binged. Females who binged reported a higher rate than males in 8 of 10 high-risk behaviors.

Conclusions: This study revealed the predominance of social sources of alcohol among young first-time alcohol offenders. Drinking and driving or riding with a drinking driver was reported at an alarmingly high rate. Other alcohol-related high-risk behaviors were also common. Efforts to prevent alcohol-related trauma should target social access to alcohol, the resulting high-risk behaviors, and include a special focus on young females.

(C) 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.