Binge alcohol use is defined as drinking five or more drinks on the same occasion on at least 1 day in the past 30 days (from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health). Heavy drinking is defined as binge drinking on at least 5 days in the past month.
In 2007, 9.7 percent of youth aged 12 to 20 reported binge drinking in the past month. The rate for heavy drinking was 2.3 percent.
Underage drinking is a leading contributor to death from injuries, which are the main cause of death for people under age 21. Annually, about 5,000 people under age 21 die from alcohol-related injuries involving underage drinking. About 1,900 (38 percent) of the 5,000 deaths involve motor vehicle crashes, about 1,600 (32 percent) result from homicides, and about 300 (6 percent) are caused by suicides.
Persons reporting first use of alcohol before age 15 are more than five times as likely to report past-year alcohol dependence or abuse than persons who first used alcohol at age 21 or older (16 percent compared with 3 percent).
Underage alcohol use increases the risk of academic failure, illicit drug use, and tobacco use. It can cause a range of physical consequences, from hangovers to death from alcohol poisoning. It can cause alterations in the structure and function of the developing brain, which continues to mature into the mid to late 20s and may have consequences reaching far beyond adolescence.
About 45 percent of fatalities in crashes involving a drinking driver under the age of 21 are people other than the driver.
- Dependence. People who reported starting to drink before the age of 15 were four times more likely to also report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives. In fact, new research shows that the serious drinking problems (including what is called alcoholism) typically associated with middle age actually begin to appear much earlier, during young adulthood and even adolescence.
- Illicit drug use. More than 67 percent of young people who start drinking before the age of 15 will try an illicit drug. Children who drink are over 7 times more likely to use any illicit drug, are over 22 times more likely to use marijuana, and 50 times more likely to use cocaine than children who never drink.
- Sexual activity. Alcohol use by teens is a strong predictor of both sexual activity and unprotected sex. A survey of high school students found that 18 percent of females and 39 percent of males say it is acceptable for a boy to force sex if the girl is high or drunk.
- Violence. Children who start drinking before age 15 are 12 times more likely to be injured while under the influence of alcohol and 10 times more likely to be in a fight after drinking, compared with those who wait until they are 21 to drink.
- School. Student substance abuse is a risk factor for, academic problems, such as lower grades, absenteeism and high dropout rates. Alcohol can interfere with a student’s ability to think, making learning and concentration more difficult and ultimately impeding academic performance. In fact, the more a student uses alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, the lower his grade point average is likely to be and the more likely he is to drop out of school.
- Driving. When young people drink and get into a car, they tend to make poor decisions that impact their safety. Traffic crashes are the number one killer of teens and over one-third of teen traffic deaths are alcohol-related.
What you can do?
Parents can take the following steps to encourage their children to abstain from alcohol:
- Spend time together regularly.
- Listen and talk with your children. Try to understand the pressures placed on them and don’t criticize their beliefs.
- Keep track of where your children are, what they are doing, and who their friends are.
- Get them involved in after-school activities so they won’t be able to just “hang out” with friends in the afternoon. This is when children are most likely to experiment.
- Praise or reward children often. If they feel good about themselves, they will be more confident and better able to resist peer pressure.
- Emphasize what alcohol/drug use can do to your teen’s future. Teens look ahead and think about their future. Discuss how substance use can ruin your teen’s chance of getting into the college she’s been dreaming about, landing the job she’s perfect for etc. Don’t be vague. Give real examples of teens who used alcohol, posted photos on Facebook and were kicked off a sports team or had a college admission rescinded.
- Use the news. If you see a news story about an alcohol-related car accident, talk to your teen about all the victims that an accident leaves in its wake.
- If you saw a friend intoxicated would you leave them?
- If you are at a party where alcohol was and you weren’t drinking and cops showed up what would you do?
- If you would yourself in a situation where all of your friends were drinking…what would you do?