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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Feature:
Rethinking Drinking

Underage Drinking

two boys drinking alcohol

Research shows that children whose parents are actively involved in their lives are less likely to drink. A child with a parent who binge drinks is much more likely to binge than a child whose parents don't.

Underage drinking is when anyone under the minimum legal drinking age of 21 drinks alcohol. Aside from being illegal, it is a widespread public health problem that poses many risks.

Underage drinking attracts many adolescents and teens. Research shows that the brain continues to develop well into a person's twenties. Alcohol can seriously impact the developing brain. Young people often don't realize the damage drinking can have on themselves, their families, and communities.

fastfacts
1
As kids get older, they drink more. By age 15, half of teens have had at least one drink; by 18, more than 70 percent have had at least one drink.
2
Binge Drinking—Young people average about 5 drinks on a single occasion.
3
Death—5,000 people under 21 die each year from alcohol—related car crashes, homicides, suicides, alcohol poisoning, and falls, burns, drowning, and other accidents.
4
Violence—Young drinkers are more likely to commit or be the victim of physical or sexual assault.

Underage Drinking Warning Signs

  • Academic and/or behavioral problems
  • Changing groups of friends
  • Less interest in activities and/or appearance
  • Alcohol on a young person's breath
  • Slurred speech
  • Coordination problems
  • Memory and/or concentration problems

The Role Parents Play

Parents can help their children avoid alcohol problems by:

  • Discussing the dangers of drinking
  • Drinking responsibly, if they choose to drink
  • Serving as positive role models, in general
  • Not making alcohol available
  • Getting to know their children's friends
  • Having regular conversations about life, in general
  • Connecting with other parents about sending clear messages about the importance of not drinking
  • Supervising all parties to make sure there is no alcohol
  • Encouraging kids to participate in healthy activities that do not involve alcohol

Spring 2014 Issue: Volume 9 Number 1 Page 25