• Clemencia Carroll

Ending underage drinking is everyone’s job

Underage drinking is not only illegal, it’s a persistent threat to public health. Alcohol is the most commonly abused drug among youth.

Studies have shown that teens drink less often than adults, but when they do drink, they drink more. About 90 percent of underage drinking involves binge drinking, which is defined as five or more drinks in a row for males and four for females. That’s exactly the kind of drinking that’s most likely to go on at “senior keggers” and other teen parties.

“About 45 percent of teenagers in the nation drink alcohol, the CDC reports. Most start between the ages of 10 and 13.”

When young people try alcohol, they often don’t realize the harm it can cause not only to themselves, but to their families and communities.

The risks of underage drinking are sobering. They include:

  • Death. This can occur directly, from alcohol poisoning, or indirectly from poor judgment and reflexes that result in car crashes, murders, suicides, and injuries like falls and drowning.

  • Serious injury. In 2010, there were about 189,000 visits by youth to emergency rooms for injuries and other conditions related to alcohol.

  • Impaired judgment. Drinking can influence kids to make poor decisions. That can result in risky behaviors like drinking and driving, sexual activity, stealing, and fighting. Young people who drink are more likely to be the perpetrator or the victim of physical or sexual assault.

  • Brain development problems. Brain development begins in the womb and lasts into the mid-20s. Research shows that binge drinking in adolescence can cause lasting harm to parts of the brain related to learning, memory, impulse control, and decision-making.

  • Poor school performance. Drinking disrupts sleep patterns, which can make it harder to stay awake and concentrate during the day. Underage drinkers are more likely to have bad grades and drop out of school.

  • Run-ins with the law. Poor judgment can prompt teens to do things that are against the law, like drinking and driving, vandalism, and committing violence against others.

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