Alcohol is the most commonly used drug in the US, including for minors; 18.5% of people ages 12–20 report consuming it and 11% drink heavily or binge. For adults, it’s the third-leading preventable cause of death (after tobacco and poor diet). For teenagers, it can interfere with normal brain development and highly increases the risk of sexual assault, alcohol overdose and car accidents. It’s linked to 200,000 ER visits by minors annually and is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths.
The trend of sweet drinks traces back to the eighties, but only recently have they proliferated to such a degree. Particularly with hard seltzers, they’ve become more appealing, and more accessible, to youths. What’s more, the same flavoring and carbonation that mask the taste of alcohol also make it harder to gauge how much of it is being consumed.
Drinks like White Claw and Truly, flavored vodkas and even infused popsicles have been shown to play a part in the rise of underage drinking. They also increase the chance of hospitalization compared to beverages like beer or wine. And while ads and commercials for these drinks target adults, at least one poll found that teenagers ages 16–18 see them more often than their intended audience.
Though underage drinking is actually on the decline, about 10% of Americans have their first alcoholic drink before the age of 13. It doubles to 20% by age 15 and 30% by age 18. So don’t wait to have a serious talk about alcohol with your children until they go to college. Discuss it early, and make sure to explain how to spot an alcoholic beverage, the difference between alcohol types and the percentage of alcohol in different drinks. They’ll be offered a drink sooner or later—make sure they know how to tell what’s in it.
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