It's one of the worst-kept secrets in America. More and more under-age drinkers are getting more drunk more often, in more places and in more creative ways.

We can't blame Canada for this one. We can't even blame Mexico.

Some do blame trends in advertising — saying that clever beer ads and the new boldness of hard-liquor companies put booze on the brain of the nation's teens. And there is room for some blame there.

Some blame disinterested parents. And they must shoulder their share.

But the real problem is America has never really decided how to think about alcohol. Years ago the nation went through the prohibition shuffle, but since then people blink when it comes to drinking.

Say "meth" or "marijuana" and citizens know where they stand. Say "mescal," however, and even the most austere civil libertarian goes a little mushy.

Alcohol is a drug. It's a drug that many Americans abuse.

It's a drug that wrecks homes, wrecks cars and wrecks lives.

But moralizing is easy, changing things is hard. And the best way to change things is to change minds. Alcohol consumption is not a lifestyle issue any more, it is a public health and safety issue — especially when high school kids are indulging. Just as anyone driving 80 mph in a residential zone would be subject to society's shun, shame and criminal prosecution, the time is fast approaching when public intoxication in any venue will be seen as a threat to the welfare of the country's citizens.

Right now, under-age drinking is being seen and treated by many as a social ill.

When it is finally treated as a crime — which it is — with victims, penalties and severe consequences, then the country will be on its way to forming an attitude toward alcohol that is not wishy-washy. Alcohol, as a drug, is on a par with other mind-altering chemicals. Abuse that threatens public welfare needs to be criminalized. That will do much to force families and communities to confront the dangers and ugliness of a product that past generations often called — not unfairly — a "demon."