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Alcohol and Teen Drinking
A child who reaches age 21 without
smoking, abusing alcohol or using drugs
is virtually certain never to do so.
- Joseph A. Califano, Jr., The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are not only adult problems — they also affect a significant number of adolescents and young adults between the ages of 12 and 20, even though drinking under the age of 21 is illegal.
While drinking may be a singular problem behavior for some, research suggests that for others it may be an expression of general adolescent turmoil that includes other problem behaviors and that these behaviors are linked to unconventionality, impulsiveness, and sensation-seeking.
The average age when youth first try alcohol is 11 years for boys and 13 years for girls.
By age 14, 41 percent of children have had least one drink.
The average age at which Americans begin drinking regularly is 15.9 years old.
Teens who begin drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21.
An early age of drinking onset is also associated with alcohol-related violence not only among persons under age 21 but among adults as well.
It has been estimated that over three million teenagers are out-and-out alcoholics. Several million more have a serious drinking problem that they cannot manage on their own.
Annually, more than 5,000 deaths of people under age 21 are linked to underage drinking.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. HHS, Office of the Surgeon General, 2007.
How drinking affects people under 18
The brain goes through rapid development and "wiring" changes during the ages of 12-21. Teen alcohol use can damage this development that is essential to brain growth.
Alcohol can damage two key brain areas:
1. The prefrontal area is responsible for thinking, planning, good judgment, decision-making, and impulse control. Damage from alcohol during teen years can be long-term and irreversible.
2. The hippocampus is involved in learning and memory. Frequent drinkers may never be able to catch up in adulthood since alcohol inhibits systems crucial for storing new information.
Binge drinking, often beginning around age 13, tends to increase during adolescence, peak in young adulthood (ages 18-22), then gradually decrease. Individuals who increase their binge drinking from age 18 to 24 and those who consistently binge drink at least once a week during this period may have problems attaining the goals typical of the transition from adolescence to young adulthood (e.g., marriage, educational attainment, employment, and financial independence).
Dependence on alcohol and other drugs is also associated with several mental health problems, such as:
Whether anxiety and depression lead to, or are consequences of, alcohol abuse is not known.
Alcohol use among adolescents has also been associated with considering, planning, attempting, and completing suicide. Research does not indicate whether drinking causes suicidal behavior, only that the two behaviors are correlated.
Parents' drinking behavior and favorable attitudes about drinking have been positively associated with adolescents' initiating and continuing drinking. Children who were warned about alcohol by their parents and children who reported being closer to their parents were less likely to start drinking.
Lack of parental support, monitoring, and communication have been significantly related to frequency of drinking, heavy drinking, and drunkenness among adolescents. Harsh, inconsistent discipline and hostility or rejection toward children have also been found to significantly predict adolescent drinking and alcohol-related problems.
Peer drinking and peer acceptance of drinking have also been associated with adolescent drinking.
The most common and effective way for an individual to combat his or her addictive behaviors is through a self-help support group, with advice and support from a health care professional. Treatment should also involve family members because family history often plays a role in the origins of the problem and successful treatment cannot take place in isolation.
The National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service provides a toll-free telephone number, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), offering various resource information. Through this service you can speak directly to a representative concerning alcohol and other drugs, request printed material on alcohol or other drugs, or obtain local substance abuse treatment referral information in your State.
Information provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General and the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information. To learn more about alcohol and other drugs of abuse, contact NCADI at 1-800-729-6686.
by Chris Volkmann and Toren Volkmann
Written from the viewpoints of both mother and son, this is a riveting, enlightening, and heartbreakingly true story of a family that was able to confront the fear, pain, and denial that threatened to destroy them-and survive the epidemic of teenage drinking that is putting America's future at risk.
More Information on Alcohol Abuse
An Addict's Story: What's at the Root of Addictions? ~ The factors that lead a person into addiction are rooted in childhood -- feelings of unworthiness and shame, anticipation of being rejected, the belief that no one will come through for them so they must rely on themselves, and the addictive agent is their greatest need for pleasure, relief, and/or distraction from pain. These factors feed off each other.
College Drinking: Changing the Culture ~ Comprehensive research-based information on issues related to alcohol abuse and binge drinking among college students.
The Drink Wheel ~ Compute your estimated blood/breath alcohol concentration.
Drinking or using drugs before 15 triples risk of becoming addict or criminal ~ Even children who had shown no signs of problem behavior while they were young were more likely to go on to become addicted to drink or drugs, contract sexually transmitted diseases, and have a criminal record, if they took drugs or drank on 'multiple occasions' in their early teens.
God and Alcoholism ~ The first AA group (the "Pioneers") called themselves a 'Christian fellowship', as they founded their recovery on the reliance of God.
Limiting adolescents' exposure to R-rated movies may help prevent early use of alcohol and tobacco ~ Adolescents with parental limits on watching R-rated movies were three times less likely to report that they had tried smoking or drinking than children with no limits on watching R-rated films.
A Practical Guide for Preventing and Dispersing Underage Drinking Parties (pdf) ~ This guide describes the role of enforcement and community organizations or groups in preventing underage drinking parties and how to safely disperse them.
Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking: A Guide to Action for Families (pdf) ~ This guide gives you the knowledge and tools you need to take action against underage drinking. It tells you about underage alcohol use and the damage it can do. And, it suggests way you can end underage drinking in your home, family, community, and across the country.
Sex Addiction is Linked to Other Addictions ~ The addiction process has an interactive nature.
The Surgeon General's Call To Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking (pdf) ~ Comprehensive portal of Federal resources for information on underage drinking and ideas for combating this issue.
Teen alcohol use is a prime-time TV staple, study finds ~ Alcohol is shown on prime-time television programs far more than any other drink or food, and actors, including those portraying adolescents, are shown consuming alcohol on more than 40 percent of network shows.
Teen binge drinking can do long-term brain damage ~ Studies have shown that teenagers who abuse alcohol have problems with memory, learning and other brain functions compared with their peers, while animal research suggests such effects could last into adulthood.
Teen drinking more dangerous than previously thought ~ Significant brain development happens until the age of 21 and heavy drinking by teen-agers may inhibit that development.
A Message to Teenagers . . . How to tell when drinking is becoming a problem (pdf) ~ A sinple 12 question quiz for teenagers.
The Unmanageable Life ~ What brings people to AA or a 12-step support group?
Underage Drinking Costs ~ Tragic health, social, and economic problems result from the use of alcohol by youth. In 2001, underage drinking cost the citizens of the US $61.9 billion. These costs include medical care, work loss, and pain and suffering associated with the multiple problems resulting from the use of alcohol by youth. On this page, you can view each state's underage drinking cost.
Individuals who drink heavily during adolescence may be more likely to have deficits in being able to adapt successfully to changing life situations as adults, possibly tied to chemical and or structural changes in the frontal cortex -- the part of the brain that allows us to predict consequences of our actions, control our impulses, refine our reasoning, and evaluate long- and short-term rewards.
Underage Drinking State Information ~ State-related underage drinking websites, state underage drinking costs, success stories, and other underage drinking-related state events.
What are Addictive Behaviors? ~ Any activity, substance, object, or behavior that has become the major focus of a person's life to the exclusion of other activities, or that has begun to harm the individual or others physically, mentally, or socially is considered an addictive behavior.
Young People and Alcohol ~ Statistics that show underage drinking is widespread and the consequences are devastating.
© Focus Adolescent Services