Today, nearly 10.8 million youth ages 12-20, are underage drinkers!
What is underage drinking?
When anyone under age 21 drinks alcohol, we call it underage drinking. And underage drinking is against the law, except in special cases, such as when it is part of a religious ceremony. Underage drinking is also dangerous. It can harm the mind and the body of a growing teen in ways many people don’t realize.
Yet, children and teens still drink, even though it can harm them. Underage drinking is a serious problem, with roots deep in our culture. It is time to change that picture. It’s time to take action. It’s time to stop looking the other way. It’s time to tell children and teens that underage drinking is not OK. It’s a long-term project for parents, school, local groups, community leaders and other concerned adults.
The greatest influence on young people’s decisions to begin drinking is the world they live in, which includes their families, friends, school, the large community and society as a whole. Alcohol used by young people often is made possible by adults. After all, teens can’t legally get alcohol on their own.
Why is underage drinking a problem? So many young people drink. Many more young people use alcohol than tobacco or illegal drugs. By age 18, more than 70 percent of teens have had at least one drink.
When young people drink, they drink a lot at one time. Teens drink less often than adults, but when teens do drink they drink more than adults. On average, young people have about 5 drinks on a single occasion. This is called binge drinking; a very dangerous way of drinking that can lead to serious problems and even death.
Early drinking can cause later alcohol problems. Of adults who started drinking before age 15, around 40 percent say they have the signs of alcohol dependence. That rate is four times higher than for adults who didn’t drink until they were age 21.
Alcohol may have a special appeal for young people. The teen years are a time of adventure, challenge and taking risks. Alcohol is often one of the risks young people take. They don’t realize that alcohol can affect young people in different ways, it affects a teen’s body and behavior and they don’t realize that underage drinkers can also harm people other than themselves.
Everyone can work together to create a community where young people can grow up and feel good about themselves without drinking. Families can help prevent underage drinking by staying involved in their children’s lives.
It’s time to change how we all think, talk and act when it comes to underage drinking. We need to stop accepting it and to start discouraging it. It’s time to help young people understand that it is not okay for them to drink alcohol. The discussion needs to start long before youth start thinking about drinking.
For more information call Gini Nichols, Drug Free Coalition chairperson at 572-5778 or Jennings, Family Connection Coordinator at 756-3602.