As the most used and abused drug among American teens, alcohol routinely puts teens at risk for alcohol addictions as well as related illnesses and injuries, some resulting in deaths. According to the Center for Disease Control, underage drinking is a public health concern that puts many at risk.
Commonness of Underage Drinking
Even though it’s illegal for people under age 21 to drink alcohol, those between the ages of 12 and 20 drink a remarkable 11% of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. And it’s not just a slim minority of teens who are drinking: In a 2009 survey among high school students, the following percentages reflect their admitted behavior over the past month:
- 10% had driven after drinking alcohol.
- 19% report binge drinking.
- 24% admitted to binge drinking.
- 28% had knowingly ridden with an intoxicated driver.
- 42% had drunk alcohol in some form.
According to another survey unbound by a time frame, 72% of high school seniors and 37% of 8th students had at least experimented with alcohol.
Results of Underage Drinking
When you combine the frequency of underage drinking with the fact that underage drinkers typically drink more on each occasion than legal drinkers, it’s no surprise that over 90% of the alcohol consumed by underage persons is part of binge drinking. The combination of inexperience, adolescent foolishness, and binging is often devastating, and sometimes fatal. According to a 2008 study, nearly 200,000 emergency visits by those under 21 took place due to conditions or injuries related to alcohol consumption.
In addition to direct health risks, underage drinkers are also more likely to experience other consequences as a result of drinking. Such results include these:
- Abusing other drugs
- Disrupting of normal physical growth and sexual development
- Enduring physical or sexual assault
- Dealing with memory problems and mental development
- Participating in unprotected, unplanned, and often unwanted sexual activity
- Having problems at school, such as frequent absences and failing grades
- Being the victim of suicide or homicide
- Dealing with social problems
- Dying from alcohol poisoning
Lifelong Consequences of Underage Drinking
Many of the results listed above have lifelong consequences. Of course, topping that list would be those who die from alcohol poisoning, homicide, or suicide. Even those who survive their teenage drinking binges may have far-reaching consequences plaguing them throughout adulthood. Memory problems and issues with physical growth or mental or sexual development can affect young people for years after their youthful drinking phase. For many, though, that phase becomes a lifestyle: Those who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely (than those who wait until they’re legal) to abuse alcohol or become addicted to it as adults.
Many parents fail to realize the many severe problems that stem from underage drinking. Sadly, even those who do realize the problems frequently fail to take steps to protect their teenage children from those consequences.
Photo credits: Top & Middle © Monkey Business / Fotolia. Bottom © dragon_fang / Fotolia.