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Underage Drinking

Alcohol abuse is a significant problem among young people and a solution needs to be found. As children approach their teen years, they begin to experience many emotional and physical changes that are not always easy. The teen years are challenging and confusing time

Youth often is thought of as a time for trying new things, but trying alcohol at a young age can be riskier than you might think. More than two decades of research from the American Medical Association (AMA) shows that alcohol causes severe and possibly lasting brain damage in people under the age of 21. This is of great concern because children now try alcohol for the first time at the age of 12, and nearly 30 percent of 12- to 20-year-olds report binge drinking (having 4 to 5 drinks in a row).

The average age of a child’s first drink is now 12 and nearly 30 percent of 12 to 20 year-olds are considered binge drinkers. While many believe that underage drinking is an inevitable "rite of passage" that adolescents can easily recover from because their bodies are more resilient, the opposite is true.

For most children, it's not just one thing that influences them to drink, but a combination of factors.


Kids who start drinking AT AGE 14 have a 45% -55% CHANCE of developing a dependence on alcohol in early adulthood. 

  • 18 HAVE A 15%-20%


DEFINITION: Binge drinking is (Male) 5 or 4 (Female) standard drinks in 2 hours based on average weight and height.




  • Friends/family members over 21 buying for minors / Cousins/brothers/sisters/cousins etc.
  • Adults buying for kids who are outside stores

Example: My mom is sick and can’t leave the house….

  • Parents Liquor cabinet
  • Stealing it from stores:

Example: Grocery stores/drug stores etc./

Solution: Have aisles with turn styles-must show id

Fake ids

  • $100 gets you a good id without the hologram
  • $300 gets you an id with hologram: state officials cannot tell the difference between the fake id and their REAL ID’S


Liquor Industry  Targets young people in Magazine ads

Glamour of TV-beautiful people.

Mikes Hard lemonade/different flavors you can go on line and see Kids giving reviews of the product

Energy alcohol drinks: 4 Loco

A major source of the normalization of alcohol use by children and youth is alcohol advertising. Television networks and cable stations have profited tremendously from the alcohol industry’s aggressive marketing to underage drinkers. These ads are proven to heavily influence the normalization and glamorization of drinking in the minds of children, and television has continued to endanger the health of these young viewers in spite of such findings.


As children begin spending more time with their peers and less time with their parents, this increased freedom can lead to drinking.5 While it's important to give your child space, keep track of where they are and who they're with. If they are at a friend's house, make sure a responsible adult is nearby or accessible.


Children who are disruptive, hyperactive, or depressed are at a higher risk for alcohol problems. If you feel that your child's social issues could lead him or her to abuse alcohol, consider having your child see a drug and alcohol counselor.


Children who come from a family with a history of alcoholism are at an increased risk for alcohol dependence. If alcoholism runs in your family, have an honest discussion with your child, and make sure he or she understands the seriousness of the disease.


Taking chances and trying new things are a normal part of growing up. For some children, this exploration includes experimenting with alcohol.6 Remind your child about the real risks of underage drinking, and make sure he or she knows how you feel about underage drinking.


When children worry about things like grades, fitting in, and physical appearance, they may use alcohol as a way to escape their problems. Encourage your child to get involved in sports or other extracurricular activities as a healthier way to cope.


Life events, like going from middle school to high school, breaking up with a significant other, moving, or divorce, can cause a child to turn to alcohol.  Reassure your child that things will get easier, and make sure he or she knows that drinking isn't a solution.


If children grow up in an environment where adults drink excessively, they are more likely to drink themselves. If you choose to drink, set a good example by drinking in moderation, and make sure your child knows that underage drinking is not acceptable


 Family, peers, school, and the community all play a role in your child's decision to drink.

In fact, most children who use alcohol get it from a friend or family member. To ensure these people become positive role models for your child, let them know how you feel about underage drinking.

Over 70% of eighth graders said alcohol is easy to get.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, "Make a Difference: Talk to Your Child about Alcohol," 2009.

30% of children age 12-14 get alcohol from a family member. 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, "Underage Alcohol Use: Findings from the 2002–2006 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health," 2008.


Most children feel pressure to be popular and fit in. Many try alcohol when they are in a social setting where "everyone else is doing it."7 Help boost your child's confidence by helping them learn different ways to say "no," and reminding them that real friends wouldn't pressure them to drink. If your child's friends use alcohol, your child is more likely to drink, too. During adolescence, a child's friends impact a lot of his or her decisions, including whether or not to try alcohol. Since children want to fit in with their peers, they might try alcohol just because everyone else is doing it.


What to do: Get to know your child's friends. If you feel they are a negative influence, try pointing out your reservations about them to your child, or limit the amount of time he or she spends with them. You should also discuss ways your child can avoid drinking when he or she feels pressure from peers


Parents have the greatest influence on a child's decision to drink. Children not only model their actions and attitudes toward alcohol after their parents, they look to their parents to set rules and expectations about drinking. Poor and inconsistent parenting has been associated with early and excessive drinking among children.

Between the ages of 9 and 13, children start to think differently about alcohol. Many children begin to think underage drinking is OK and some even start to experiment. It's never too early to talk to your children about alcohol, and encourage them to talk with you.

Over 70% of children say parents are the leading influence in their decision to drink or not


What you can do: Provide your child with clear, consistent rules, and make it a point to be involved in his or her life. If you drink, set a good example by drinking in moderation.


  • Some parents do not talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol if they do it is usually a one-time talk.
  • Parents should be engaged in a constant dialogue.
  • Let kids know that if they are at a party not to get in a car with someone who has been drinking call them no matter what the time.

What you can do: Provide your child with clear, consistent rules, and make it a point to be

involved in his or her life. If you drink, set a good example by drinking in moderation.


The good news is that parents can help their teens make healthy choices when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Know where your child is, whom he is with, and what he is doing. Take time to talk to him each day about his activities and ideas, and listen to what he tells you. Discuss your expectations for him, and praise behavior you want him to repeat.


 Short, frequent discussions can have a real impact on your child's decisions about alcohol.

Talking to your child at an early age about drinking is the first step toward keeping them alcohol-free. But as they enter junior high and high school, the pressure to try alcohol increases. It's important to continue the conversation throughout adolescence.

Talking often builds an open, trusting relationship with your child.

Children are more likely to avoid drinking when they have a strong, trusting relationship with their parents.2 Get into the habit of chatting with your child every day. It will make it easier to have serious conversations about things like alcohol, and will make your child more comfortable coming to you for advice.

Lots of little talks are more effective than one "big talk."

Sitting down for the "big talk" about alcohol can be intimidating for both you and your child. Try using everyday opportunities to talk – in the car, during dinner, or while you and your child are watching TV. Having lots of little talks takes the pressure off trying to get all of the information out in one lengthy discussion, and your child will be less likely to tune you out.

 When you do talk about alcohol, make your views and rules clear.

Take the time to discuss your beliefs and opinions about alcohol with your child. Be honest and express a clear, consistent message that underage drinking is unacceptable. When they feel that you're being real and honest with them, they'll be more likely to respect your rules about underage drinking.

As children get older, the conversation changes.

What you say to a 9-year-old about alcohol is different from what you say to a 15-year-old. Children also can't learn all they need to know from a single discussion. Make sure that the information you offer your child fits their age. As they get older, you can give them more information and reinforce your rules.

Remember that the conversation goes both ways.

Although talking to your child about your thoughts about alcohol is essential, it's also important to hear their point of view. Give your child the opportunity to ask you questions, and listen to what they have to say. Children who have parents who listen to their feelings and concerns are more likely to say "no" to alcohol.

What you do is just as important as what you say.

In addition to talking often with your child about alcohol, it's important to set a good example. If you choose to drink, you can positively influence your child by drinking in moderation and NEVER driving when you've been drinking. Be aware of where you keep your alcohol, and always remind your child that the alcohol in your house is off-limits.


Researchers compared the brains of 14- to 21-year-olds who drank alcohol with those who didn't. Teens who drank had smaller hippocampus (the area deep in the brain that handles memory and learning), and they also had damage to part of the cerebral cortex, the prefrontal cortex (an area tucked behind the forehead that is used to make decisions and to reason). The AMA found that teens that used alcohol scored worse on vocabulary, visual-spatial tests (the ability to think in pictures and images), and memory tests. They also were more likely to perform poorly in school and suffer from social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts, and violence.

Alcohol can be harmful to people of any age, but it takes a greater toll on brain development in those under 21 than in any other age group. Findings show that adults would have to consume twice as many drinks to suffer the same damage as teens and that even some heavy drinking injures young brains. The AMA report points out that, no matter what many people might think, youth do not tolerate the effects of alcohol better than adults.

The Adolescent Brain

The brain goes through dynamic change during adolescence, and alcohol can seriously damage long- and short-term growth processes. Frontal lobe development and the refinement of pathways and connections continue until age 16, and a high rate of energy is used as the brain matures until age 20. Damage from alcohol at this time can be long-term and irreversible.3 In addition, short-term or moderate drinking impairs learning and memory far more in youth than adults. Adolescents need only drink half as much to suffer the same negative effects.4

Drinkers vs. Non-Drinkers: Research Findings

  • Adolescent drinkers scored worse than non-users on vocabulary, general information, memory, memory retrieval and at least three other tests5
  • Verbal and nonverbal information recall was most heavily affected, with a 10 percent performance decrease in alcohol users6
  • Significant neuropsychological deficits exist in early to middle adolescents (ages 15 and 16) with histories of extensive alcohol use7
  • Adolescent drinkers perform worse in school, are more likely to fall behind and have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence
  • Alcohol affects the sleep cycle, resulting in impaired learning and memory as well as disrupted release of hormones necessary for growth and maturation8
  • Alcohol use increases risk of stroke among young drinkers

Adverse Effects of Alcohol on the Brain: Research Findings

Youth who drink can have a significant reduction in learning and memory, and teen alcohol users are most susceptible to damaging two key brain areas that are undergoing dramatic changes in adolescence:

  • The hippocampus handles many types of memory and learning and suffers from the worst alcohol-related brain damage in teens. Those who had been drinking more and for longer had significantly smaller hippocampus (10 percent).
  • The prefrontal area (behind the forehead) undergoes the most change during adolescence. Researchers found that adolescent drinking could cause severe changes in this area and others, which play an important role in forming adult personality and behavior and is often called the CEO of the brain.


Lasting Implications

Compared to students who drink moderately or not at all, frequent drinkers may never be able to catch up in adulthood, since alcohol inhibits systems crucial for storing new information as long- term memories and makes it difficult to immediately remember what was just learned.

Additionally, those who binge once a week or increase their drinking from age 18 to 24 may have problems attaining the goals of young adulthood—marriage, educational attainment, employment, and financial independence.12 And rather than “outgrowing” alcohol use, young abusers are significantly more likely to have drinking problems as adults.

For information about how to talk to your child, visit Underage and Under the Influence of Alcohol (hyperlink to article) and Talk to Your Child About Alcohol for information about how to talk to your child. You also may want to use ads on TV to start a conversation with your child about alcohol and drug use.


As your child becomes more and more curious about alcohol, he or she may turn to you for answers and advice. Use this opportunity to start an open, honest conversation about drinking. Since some questions can be difficult to answer, it's important to be prepared.


Remind your child that underage drinking is against the law – for good reason. Point out that adults' bodies are full-grown, so they can handle drinking; but children's bodies are still growing, so alcohol can have a greater impact on their judgment and health.2


Explain to your child your reasons for drinking – whether it's to enhance a meal, share good times with friends, or celebrate a special occasion. Point out that if you choose to drink, it's always in moderation. Tell your child that some people shouldn't drink at all, including children who are underage.


If you drank as a teenager, experts recommend that you give an honest answer.1 Explain why you were tempted to try alcohol and why underage drinking is dangerous. You could even give your child an example of an embarrassing or painful moment that occurred because of your drinking.


Helping your child say "no" to peer pressure is one of the most important things you can do to keep him or her alcohol-free. Work with your child to think of a way for them to handle this situation, whether it's simply saying "no" or suggesting an alternative activity for them to do.


Ask your child if an adult will be present at the party, or if he or she thinks children will be drinking. Remind your child that even just being at a party where underage people are drinking can get them in trouble. Use this time to establish or reinforce your rules about alcohol, and what behavior you expect.


Don't try to scare your child about drinking or tell him or her, "You can't handle it." For example, you should tell him or her, "Alcohol can be bad for your growing brain, interferes with your judgment, and can make you sick." Once children hear the facts and your opinions about them, it's easier for you to make rules and enforce them.


  • SAMHSA's 2006 and 2007 National Surveys on Drug Use & Health were combined to study how and where drinkers under the legal age, (i.e., drinkers aged 12 to 20) obtained alcohol.



  • Based on combined data from SAMHSA's 2006 to 2007 National Surveys on Drug Use & Health, an annual average of 28.1% of underage drinkers (10.8 million persons aged 12 to 20) drank alcohol in the past month. By age group within the


  • 1% of those aged 18 to 20;
  • 9% of those age 15 to 17; and
  • 1% of those aged 12 to 14.



  • 6% paid for the last alcoholic drink,
  • 4% got it for free from a non-relative of legal drinking age, 14.6% got it for free from another underage person,
  • 9% got it from a parent or guardian, and
  • 5% got it from another relative who was of legal drinking age.


  • SAMHSA's 2006 National Survey on Drug Use & Health indicated that more than a fourth of the persons under the legal age for drinking actually drank in the past month, that is, there were 10.8 million current underage drinkers; 
  • Over a half (53.4%) of the current underage alcohol users drank at someone else's home the last time they used alcohol and another 30.3% drank in their own home.
  • Younger female underage drinkers were more likely than older ones to have had their most recent drink in a car or other vehicle. For example, female underage drinkers aged 16 were eight times more likely to have had their last drank in a car than those aged 20 (12.8% vs. 1.6%).
  • Among current underage drinkers aged 20, females were almost twice as likely as males to have   had their most recent drink in a restaurant, bar, or club (20.0% vs. 10.2%).


  •  Major depressive episodes in lifetime or past year were assessed in SAMHSA's National Survey on Drug Use and Health among youth aged 12 to 17.
  •  A major depressive episode was defined using the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria which specifies a period of two weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning (such as problems with sleeping, eating, energy, concentration, and self image).
  • Data from SAMHSA's 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health were used to examine the following in the past year: major depressive episode, initiation of alcohol or illicit drug use, and the association between such new alcohol and/or illicit drug use and major depressive episode.
  • In 2005, 8.8% of youth (about 2.2 million youth) had experienced at least one major depressive episode during the past year. Rates of major depressive episode varied by gender and age.
  • About 2.7 million youth (15.4% of the youth who had not used alcohol previously) used alcohol for the first time in the past year.
  • About 1.5 million youth (7.6% of the youth who had not used an illicit drug previously) used at least one illicit drug in the past year.
  • Among youth who had not used alcohol or an illicit drug previously, those with a major depressive episode were about twice as likely to start using alcohol or an illicit drug as youth who had not experienced a major depressive episode in the past year.
  • Among youth who had not used alcohol previously, 29.2% of those with a major depressive episode initiated alcohol use compared with 14.5% youth who had not experienced a major depressive episode in the past year.
  • Among youth who had not used an illicit drug previously, 16.1% of those with a major depressive episode initiated illicit drug use compared with 6.9% youth who had not experienced a major depressive episode in the past year.


Children who have older brothers or sisters who drink are more likely to use alcohol.3

An older brother or sister often serves as a mentor whom the younger children look up to and want to emulate. If the older child drinks, he or she sends the message that underage drinking is OK, and might even provide alcohol for the younger child.


What to do: Remind your older child that he or she serves as a role model for the younger brother or sister, and that your rules and expectations about drinking apply to all underage family members. If the older sibling is of legal drinking age, ask him or her to always drink in moderation, and to never encourage drinking or offer their underage sibling alcohol.


30% of children age 12–14 get alcohol from a family member.4

As children get older, they tend to think their relatives are somehow a bit cooler than their parents. Since family members like uncles and cousins don't set the rules about underage drinking, they might not think about how their drinking behavior may influence your child or they may even offer him or her a drink.


What to do: Talk to them about what your rules and expectations about drinking are for your child, and ask them to help enforce these rules. If they choose to drink around your child, ask them to always drink in moderation.


Every family has different values and rules when it comes to underage drinking. Some parents might allow their children to drink, or even provide alcohol to their child's friends.


What to do: Get to know the parents of your child's friends – and their views on underage drinking. While they might have different rules for their own children, make it clear what your rules are for your child. If you feel they won't uphold your values, don't let your child go to their house.


People such as teachers, coaches, and clergy are around your child on a regular basis. They can help reinforce expectations and penalties regarding alcohol use by students, and can also notice changes in your child's behavior.


What to do: Have a one-on-one conversation with your child's teacher, coach, or religious figure about how important it is that your child abstains from underage drinking. Ask them to let you know if they notice changes in your child's behavior, or if they suspect your child might be drinking.


Thom Kessler, LMFT, RAS