The overall rates of underage drinking have declined over the past twenty years, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a large number of teenagers still illegally consuming alcohol. There are currently millions of underage drinkers throughout the United States. Some of these teens will only drink a small quantity of alcohol every month or so, while others will drink to the point of severe intoxication. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), people aged 12-20 abuse alcohol more than any other substance. This age group accounts for more than 10% of the country’s alcohol consumption despite making up just a fraction of the population.
SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services) reports that there are approximately 10 million people under the age of 21 who regularly consume alcohol. Out of those ten million people, 65% were binge drinkers. This means that they consume a large quantity of alcohol over a short period of time and may do so several times a month. 20% of these people are classified as heavy drinkers. The exact definition of heavy drinking is different for men and women. If a woman has eight or more drinks in a week then she is classified as a heavy drinker. If a man has 15 or more drinks in a week then they he is placed into the same category. One can also be placed into this category if they have more than four (three for women) drinks in a single day. Heavy drinking is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
Although it is illegal for people under the age of 21 to buy alcohol, people between the ages of 12 and 20 drink 10% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. More than 90% of this alcohol consumed by teenagers is done so by binge drinking. On average, underage people consume more drinks per occasion than adults. In 2018 there were approximately 115,000 emergency rooms visits by persons aged 12-21 for reasons related to alcohol consumption.
The Effects of Underage Drinking
Research done around underage drinking suggests that people under the age of 18 are more likely than adults to abuse alcohol because their brains are not yet fully developed. During our teenage years, our brain’s pleasure centers are maturing at a quicker rate than the part of the brain that is responsible for decision-making. This means that the part of a teenager’s brain that is responsible for impulse control has not yet fully developed. Most teenagers can not fully understand the consequences that can accompany underage drinking. Teenagers who consume a large quantity of alcohol on a near regular basis can impair brain function later in life including their memory, coordination, and motor skills.
Teens can experience instant adverse consequences if they are to consume a large quantity of alcohol during these important years of mental and physical development. If someone drinks in excess, even for part of their teen years, they can experience brain damage and can delay puberty. Prevalent drinking problems can also cause indirect health issues, such as vehicle accidents and alcohol poisoning. The risk of a sexual assault occurring will increase significantly when underage people are under the influence.
Underage drinking doesn’t just affect the person who is consuming alcohol, it will also affect the world and people around them. This is due to the fact that adolescents who are heavily intoxicated can make terrible impulsive choices. There are various risks associated with drunk driving for adults, and even more so for teenagers. Adolescents are more likely to binge drink when they drink when compared to adults, leading to greater blood alcohol levels. If they are to get behind the wheel of an automobile while under the influence the chance of an accident occurring is very high.
The Damage Done
Youth who consume alcohol in excess are more likely to experience a variety of difficulties in their life. The most common are school problems, such as higher absence rates and a decrease in their grades. They may also face some social problems, such as lack of participation in youth activities and will have a higher chance of getting into fights. Underage drinking is illegal so they may also face some legal repercussions. Drinking before the body and mind are fully developed can cause a disruption of normal growth and sexual development. Of course, if they drink too much they can have some physical problems, such as a hangover, nausea, and vomiting. If they consume a very large amount of alcohol in a short period of time they are at risk of poisoning themselves, which can be fatal.
When anyone is under the influence of alcohol their decision-making process will not be as sharp as it is when they are sober. This is especially the case for teens who can make some very bad choices when they are drunk. Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity can occur, which can lead to a variety of major changes in the youth’s life. Sadly, many physical and sexual assaults that occur among teens happen when people are under the influence. Teens are also at a higher risk for suicide and homicide when intoxicated. Overall, the risk of young people experiencing these problems is greater than for those who binge drink and are intoxicated. People who begin drinking at a younger age are at a higher risk of developing alcoholism later in life.
Underage Drunk Driving Statistics
The CDC reports that high school students drive intoxicated about 2.4 million times a month, or about 80,000 times a day. Underage drivers are 17% more likely to be involved in a fatal accident if they have even a little bit of alcohol in their system. Car accidents have become the leading cause of death for people under the age of 21. The most recent statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are quite terrifying. These stats show that fatal roadway crashes for people aged 16-20 are on the rise, despite lower overall drinking rates.
Since 2015, young people who were involved in fatal crashes rose by nearly 4%. The number of resulting deaths in this age group increased by 0.1%. Alcohol plays a significant role in these deaths. More than 33% of fatal motor vehicle crashes among people aged 16-20 years of age involved alcohol. Young drivers are 17 times more likely to die in a car crash when they have a BAC of .08% as compared to if they had not been drinking. Excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths among underage youth each year, and cost the United States nearly $25 billion in economic costs according to the CDC.
How To Speak to Teens About Underage Drinking
The hard truth is that most teens will experiment with alcohol. It is very common for high schoolers to drink, but there are a multitude of ways that parents and adults can teach safe behavior. It is very important that parents discourage their teens from getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. The easiest way to prevent underage drinking it to not have alcohol in your home, but for some, this is not reasonable. If you do have alcohol in your home you can lock up your supply of liquor. Try to take a bottle inventory and warn other siblings to not become the provider of alcohol. Some parents may choose to let their teens consume alcohol as long as they do so at home and when they are present.
Regular discussions about the risks of using alcohol can go a long way in affecting your teen in a positive way. There have been studies done that indicate that teenagers may interpret the lack of conversations as indifference about underage drinking, making them more likely to consume alcohol. Speaking with your teen is an excellent way to help break down some barriers and to build trust. Of course, this is not guaranteed to prevent your teen from drinking without a parent present.
“Parents had three primary reasons for allowing underage drinking: deliberate, spontaneous and harm reduction. Deliberate reasons included passing on knowledge about drinking responsibly and appreciating alcohol. Parents also spontaneously decided to let their teen drink. Some of these spontaneous situations involved feeling pressure from other adults to let their teen drink. Another reason was a desire to reduce potential harm. Parents feared that forbidding underage drinking would harm their relationship with their teen and potentially lead to drunk driving. Prevention efforts aimed at parents should take into account parents’ motivations to let teens drink.” – National Center for Biotechnology Information
Another option is to actively monitor their actions by providing sober spaces for your teenagers, such as alcohol-free parties at home. Remember to remain in contact with the guardians of your teen’s friends so that all everyone is on the same page. In some states, adults may be held liable for not monitoring minors who are caught drinking. However, if your teen still chooses to drink, modeling secure conduct is essential. Let them understand you are always accessible if they need a ride home for any reason and that you prefer that over the alternative options.
Reducing underage drinking will involve community-based initiatives to monitor youth operations and reduce youth alcohol access. Recent papers by the Surgeon General and the Institute of Medicine described numerous prevention approaches to help lower the number of underage people who are drinking. It is obviously important that local liquor stores enforce minimum legal legislation on the drinking age. Alcohol companies who target the youth should be prosecuted and their ads need to be taken down.
Monitoring Future Underage Drinking Trends
According to the 2018 Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF), underage drinking through the United States continued its gradual decline in 2018, with nearly six out of ten teens reporting they have never had an alcoholic beverage. For all grades, 8, 10, and 12 combined consumption rates are nearly at their lowest point ever. The biggest change can be seen among high school seniors. In 2018 these numbers reached the lowest levels in survey history which has been around for over 25 years. Among 12th graders, there were significant decreases in lifetime, past month, and daily consumption as well as binge drinking. The data gathered by this survey which helps indicate the success and progress made to eliminate underage drinking, reports a steady downward trend. Underage drinking rates remaining at some of the lowest levels recorded among junior and high school students since the early 1990s.
77 percent of 8th graders report they have never consumed alcohol. Lifetime consumption of alcohol among high school students declined proportionally 49% and 36%, since 1991. During this same period, annual consumption rates continued on the downward trend reaching a new record low among high school seniors, declining 63% proportionally among 8th graders, 48% among 10th graders, and 36% among 12th graders. About 20% 8th grade students (19%), 38% of tenth graders, and 53% of twelfth graders report they consumed alcohol in the past year.
In 2018, there were some very noticeable statistical changes that were noted in binge drinking among students in these grades. Since 1991 the prevalence of binge drinking has been reduced by more than 50 percent among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. This is a massive change from thirty years ago when nearly 70% of students this age reported binge drinking within the thirty days prior to the survey.
In 2018, 2% of 8th-grade students reported being drunk within the 30 days prior to the survey. This is the same number reported in 2017. 8% of 10th graders say they have been drunk within the past 30 days, which is down more than five percent proportionally from 2017. The number of 12th graders who reported being drunk reached a historic low in 2018. Less than one in six 12th graders report they have been drunk in the past month, this is just under 18% of students surveyed.
What to Do if Your Teen is Drinking in Excess
Underage people experimenting with alcohol is one thing, but if that experimentation turns to abuse then some serious problems can arise. Of course, the individual is at risk of getting themselves into some legal issues, but unless drunk driving is involved the repercussions are typically minimal. The main concern should be the health and overall well being of the adolescent. If you have noticed some changes in your teen and are nervous that they may be abusing alcohol, then it might be time to speak with them about their potential problem.
The American Psychological Association has identified some life factors that increase the risk of alcohol use and abuse in underage individuals. A family which has a history of alcohol abuse will significantly raise the risk of that teen developing alcohol abuse disorder. This is also combined by both genetic and learning factors. The particular rate of maturation of an individual may influence their alcohol abuse risk. Younger individuals can be at enhanced danger if they mature physically earlier in life.
How easily accessible alcohol is to the underage person is a very important factor that adds to young people’s use of alcohol. Young individuals are more likely to attempt it in settings where alcohol is just an arm’s reach away. Leaving alcohol just lying around the house and in unlocked cabinets will make it much easier for an underage person to drink.
Co-occurring mental health disorders and/or a history of childhood trauma will increase the likelihood of abuse of any sort of drug. Alcohol is often easily accessible and those who suffer with underlying mental health issues which commonly makes it the first serious mood and mind altering substance used. Social factors, such as the socioeconomic status of an individual, living circumstances, and their relationship with their family can all influence that young person’s chance of abusing alcohol. Someone who comes from a broken home who has a history of childhood trauma will have a higher risk of developing an alcohol abuse problem when compared to a teen who has an ideal childhood.
Signs of Underage Drinking
There are some easy to notice signs that your teen might be struggling with alcohol abuse issues. Some of these indicators may be difficult to notice, after all, teenagers are going through a variety of physical and mental changes that will alter the way the act. If you only notice one or two of these signs of underage drinking, it doesn’t mean your child is struggling, but you may want to sit down with them and express your concerns. If you notice three or more of these signs then it is definitely time to speak with your teen about their potential drinking problem.
Some signs may include:
- Emotional changes including mood swings, irritability and defensiveness
- Memory concentration or mental lapses
- School problems, sloppy appearance, rebelling against family
- A lack of interest in activities
- Low energy
- Lack of coordination
- Slurred speech
You may have noticed the onset of uncharacteristic problems in school, such as recent behavioral problems or a recent decrease in their academic performance. Maybe your teen is going through recent unexpected mood changes especially regarding problems with depression, irritability, and rage. Those who abuse alcohol will display uncharacteristic times of extremely low energy levels combined with reports of feeling ill more often than usual. A change in one’s peer group and closest friends is also common for people struggling with alcohol abuse disorder. Those struggling will typically have less interest in their old hobbies and their level of self-care will decrease. You may also notice periodic problems with attention and memory that seem uncharacteristic to the individual.
Help for Teens with Alcohol Abuse Issues
The formal diagnosis of an alcohol abuse disorder and alcoholism can only officially be made by a licensed mental health clinician. If you are worried about your loved one or have already identified that they are struggling, then please seek out professional help. No one who is struggling with alcohol abuse, especially an underage person, should never try to overcome their issues alone. Entering an alcohol rehab center is definitely ideal. One that caters to under age people is the best choice and will give the struggling person a much greater chance at overcoming their issues.
An adolescent rehab center that will design a treatment plan around the individual while treating underlying mental health issues is essential. A dual diagnosis treatment program that helps underage drinkers will help the client get to the root cause of their problem. They will learn powerful coping mechanisms, relapse prevention tools, and important life skills to help them build a strong foundation to build their life upon. Most rehab centers will accept private health insurance to help cover the cost of the treatment. If you do not have private insurance, don’t worry. There are state and county funded programs for teens with substance abuse issues throughout the country.
Sitting down and speaking with your teen can be a bit stressful and can be met with hostility if not done properly. We always suggest approaching your loved one with at least one other person, this will help you stay on track and focused. Since there are no drug tests that can prove if your teen has been abusing alcohol, this is more difficult than identifying a drug problem. Try to create a plan and write it down, this will allow you to stay organized and will make sure you get across all the points that have influenced you to take this action. Most people who struggle with alcohol abuse disorder will deny that they are struggling, so be ready to have your concerns brushed away. Sometimes it will take some digging to get to the truth.
Do You Have Some Questions?
If you have any questions regarding underage drinking, please contact our toll-free line. You will be connected with a substance abuse specialist who is happy to answer any questions or concerns you might have. Whether you just want to know more about the warning signs of alcohol abuse or if you need help locating a rehab center near you, we are here to help. Calls to our phone line are always free of charge and completely confidential. Going about this alone can be difficult and can bring a great amount of unneeded stress to an already stressful situation.
Let Sober Nation help you today. Call us confidentially 24/7 at: 866-724-4069