What You Need to Know about Underage Drinking

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Many kids these days talk casually about drinking or getting wasted, or binge drinking and blacking out. It’s like mentioning going to a latte stand, as commonplace as snacking on popcorn at a movie. Binge drinking is not only a social custom among youth, it is an epidemic.”

~Chris and Toren Volkmann, From Binge to Blackout: A Mother and Son Struggle with Teen Drinking

Alcohol is the most frequently used – and abused – intoxicating substance used by American youth. In fact, every year, underage drinkers consume 11% of all the alcohol drank in the United States. Even more distressing, youths 12 to 20 typically engage in unsafe drinking behaviors more often than their adult counterparts. Those behaviors directly to the more than 4700 annual alcohol-related deaths among American youth.

To put that number in perspective, it is more than all other illegal drugs combined.

Statistics about Underage Drinking in America

Despite the nationwide focus on the U.S. “opioid epidemic”, excessive alcohol use is still the #1 substance abuse problem among American teens. Take a look at some of these sobering statistics:

  • In 2010, underage drinking cost society $24 BILLION.
  • The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 1 in 5 young Americans age 12-20 drink alcohol regularly.
  • The 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey goes even further, saying that 1 in 3 high school students have tried alcohol at least once.
  • 10% of 8th graders have drunk within the past 30 days.
  • Among high school seniors, that rate jumps to 35%.

The Dangers of Teenage Binge Drinking

One of the most dangerous aspects of underage alcohol use is the tendency of young people to engage in the dangerous practice of binge drinking– consuming multiple drinks in one sitting – 5 for men and 4 for women.

Binge drinking is risky for several reasons:

  • Accidents – drunk-driving crashes, falls, drowning, fires, etc. 8% of teenagers admit to driving after drinking, and another 20% have accepted a ride from someone else who had been drinking.
  • Unsafe sexual activity – sexually-transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, etc.
  • Sexual assault – as either victim OR perpetrator. 80% of sexual assaults involve alcohol.
  • Alcohol poisoning

How Big a Problem Is Underage Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is not some uncommon drinking habit among teenagers – it is almost completely the ONLY way teens drink. In fact, 90% of the alcohol consumed by American youth comes from binge drinking.

  • According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 18% of high school students engaged in binge drinking within the past month.
  • Within the past 2 weeks, 5% of 8th graders and 17% of 12th-graders binge drank.

One of the biggest potential consequences of underage drinking is a greatly heightened risk of alcohol dependence or addiction. Young people who initiate alcohol use before the age of 15 are SIX TIMES more likely to develop an Alcohol Use Disorder at some point in life as those who wait until age 21 or older.

If your adolescent or teenager is abusing alcohol or any other drug, the best thing you can do is get them specialized professional help that addresses their unique needs. The treatment needs of substance-abusing teens are very different from those of adults.

With timely intervention and evidence-based treatment, it is possible for your teenager to break free from the shackles of addiction and return to a healthier and more productive life.

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