Risks of underage drinking
Puberty and the teenage years are a time of change. Your child may have just started high school or just gotten their driver's license. They may have a sense of freedom they never had before.
Most teenagers are curious and want to do things their own way. But they also might feel pressure to fit in. That pressure might make it hard to resist alcohol if it seems like everyone else is trying it.
The Best Time to Begin Talking
Alcohol abuse is not only an adult problem. Most American high school seniors have had an alcoholic drink within the past month. About 5,000 people under the age of 21 die each year as a result of alcohol use.
When a child begins drinking before age 15, he or she is much more likely to become a long-term drinker, or “problem drinker.” About 1 in 5 teens are considered problem drinkers. This means they:
- Get drunk
- Have accidents related to drinking
- Get into trouble with the law, their family, friends, school, or people they date
The best time to begin talking with your teen about drugs and alcohol is now. Children as young as 9 years old may become curious about drinking, and they may even try alcohol.
Alcohol Can Cause Injury or Death
Drinking can lead to making decisions that cause harm. Alcohol abuse means any of these things are more likely to occur:
- Car crashes
- Falls, drowning, and other accidents
- Violence and homicide
- Being a victim of violent crime
Risky Sexual Behavior
Alcohol use can lead to risky sexual behavior. This increases the risk for:
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Unwanted pregnancy
- Sexual assault or rape
Drinking and School
Teens who drink tend to do worse in school. Over time, too much alcohol damages brain cells. This can lead to behavior problems and lasting damage to memory, thinking, and judgment. As a result, your teen's grades may suffer and their behaviors may get them into trouble.
Health Problems Related to Alcohol
The effects of long-term alcohol use on the brain may be life-long. Drinking also creates a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
Drinking during puberty can also change hormones in the body. This can disrupt growth and puberty.
Too much alcohol at one time can cause serious injury or death from alcohol poisoning. This can occur with having as few as 4 drinks within 2 hours.
Get Help for Your Child
If you think your child is drinking but will not talk with you about it, get help. Your child's health care provider may be a good place to start.Other resources are:
- Local hospitals
- Public or private mental health agencies
- Counselors at your child's school
- Student health centers
- Programs such as Alateen, part of the Al-Anon program: www.al-anon.org/for-alateen
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Underage drinking. Why do adolescents drink, whether the risk, and how can underage drinking be prevented? Alcohol alert number 67. January 2006. (Accessed June 10, 2012)
Review Date: 6/11/2012
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.