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Underage drinking occurs when a person consumes alcohol before the legal drinking age, which is 21 in the United States.
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There are many reasons why a teenager may drink underage, including:
Some common emotional factors that contribute to underage drinking include:
If you are consuming alcohol before age 21, or you are concerned about someone drinking underage, you should address the issue and seek help from a qualified medical professional. It is also important to follow these tips to help reduce underage drinking:
Although much of the focus tends to be on the legal aspects of underage alcohol use, there are also significant health issues associated with it because teenage brains are still developing.
Young people are still learning reasonable judgment and how to handle peer pressure. Introducing alcohol during this stage of life adds an extra challenge; making it even more difficult to make good decisions.
The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, during the past 30 days:
There are both short- and long-term consequences associated with teen drinking. For example, drinking before the legal age can lead to car accidents, violence, poor sexual judgment, and even death. Other effects of underage drinking include:
The most serious health effect related to underage drinking is death. When anyone drinks excessively, it is dangerous. The risk for fatalities is higher when young people drink.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2006 to 2010, alcohol factored into the deaths of more than 4300 people under the age of 21. Causes of death included vehicle crashes, alcohol poisoning, non-vehicle accidents, homicides, and suicides.
Underage drinkers are more likely to:
Heavy, excessive drinking can lead to health problems in people of all ages. However, it is especially dangerous for younger people because:
The effects of underage drinking do not stop when a person turns 21. If left unmanaged, drinking from a young age can lead to alcoholism (alcohol use disorder) over time.
Even if a person does not develop an addiction directly as a result of underage drinking, he or she has a greater risk of developing a drinking problem later in life. In particular, trying alcohol earlier in life increases your risk of developing a substance abuse problem as an adult (including drug use).
Young people are still learning how to navigate adult responsibilities, such as driving a car, and drinking alcohol during this learning phase is extremely dangerous. Underage drinkers are more prone to certain accidents, such as:
Underage drinking is also linked to relationship problems because alcohol abuse affects entire families. The effect is worse when the person struggling with alcoholism is a teenager. A single instance of underage drinking might be an issue of discipline, but if there is heavier consumption, drinking becomes a family crisis.
Underage drinking tends to be a social activity, but this doesn’t mean young drinkers are forming strong friendships. Many underage drinkers struggle to bond with their peers. They may also feel isolated and lonely.
Part of the process of growing up is learning good judgment. Although, alcohol impairs judgment. Underage drinkers are more likely to engage in risky behavior, have unprotected sex, and behave violently or aggressively. They are also more likely to be the instigator or a victim of sexual assault and have a higher risk for unintended pregnancy.
The physical, mental, and emotional health issues related to underage drinking are extreme. But there are also legal consequences.
Drinking before the age of 21 in the United States is a crime. Additionally, the bad choices a person makes when under the influence of alcohol can also be considered crimes.
Underage drinkers face a higher risk of being arrested for disorderly conduct, drunk driving, assault, and vandalism. Even if the younger person manages to get his or her alcohol use under control, the legal consequences of underage drinking can be life-long problems.
Statistics show that underage drinking is widespread and affects young people from all walks of life.
According to Monitoring the Future, more than 75 percent of high school seniors have drunk alcohol at some point in their lives. Nearly half of all eighth-graders reported trying alcohol.
The Monitoring the Future Survey also reported that 8% of 8th graders and 33% of 12th graders drank in the past 30 days. Two percent of 8th graders and 19% of 12th graders participated in binge drinking in the past month.
Young people also tend to do more than just "try" alcohol. Binge drinking is a serious problem among people aged 12 to 20. Kids aged 12 to 17 average four to five drinks per occasion. They also drink this much about five times per month.
In 2013, there were approximately 119,000 emergency room visits from people aged 12 to 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol.
Underage drinkers consume 90 percent of the alcohol they drink during binges. More than 5 million young people reported having a binge drinking experience. Additionally, more than 1 million teens reported five binge drinking experiences in a month.
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“Underage Drinking Understanding.” US Department of Health and Human Services, Sept. 2004.
“Underage Drinking | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).” Nih.Gov, 2017, www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/underage-drinking
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends.” Drugabuse.Gov, 2001, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/monitoring-future-survey-high-school-youth-trends.