Underage Drinking: What it Looks Like and How to Handle It

Underage drinking is a serious problem in the United States. Many parents don't realize that their children are participating in it. Those that are aware that their kids are drinking often don't know how to stop it.

The best way to address underage drinking is before it even starts. However, that's not always possible. If you're a parent who is concerned about your teen consuming alcohol, there is so much you should know.

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Underage Drinking Facts to be Aware of

Teen alcohol use and abuse is prevalent everywhere you turn. Most parents are unaware of the seriousness of this problem.

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism tells us this about underage drinkers:

  • Alcohol is the most widely used and abused drug among teenagers in the United States.
  • The consequences involved with underage drinking affect everyone, not just the teens themselves.
  • By the time teens are 15 years old, 33% of them have had at least one alcoholic drink.
  • By the age of 18, 60% of teens have had at least one drink.
  • Close to 8 million young people ages 12 to 20 said that they had consumed in the last month.
  • 19.7% of boys ages 16-17 have consumed alcohol.
  • 20.5% of girls ages 16-17 have consumed alcohol.
  • These statistics are increasing as teens get older, and with every passing year.

These statistics are scary to say the least. However, they are definitely eye opening. Clearly, teenage alcohol abuse has gotten out of control.

This is not the only drug that teens use, although it is the most popular. The CDC cites some statistics that are even more troubling. They state that:

  • Youth who drink before the age of 15 are 6 times more likely to develop alcoholism than others.
  • Underage drinkers are much more likely to abuse other types of drugs.
  • In this way, it serves as a gateway drug for more illicit drug abuse.
  • 4,300 young people die every year because of excessive drinking.
  • People between the ages of 12 and 20 years old consume 11% of all the alcohol in the U.S.
  • Teen drinkers generally consume more than adults each time they drink.

Drinking young is a major issue for teens, and binge drinking is very common. In adults, binge drinking is defined as consuming 5 drinks for men and 4 drinks for women in two hours. These numbers may be even lower for teenagers.

Statistics tell us that:

  • 90% of the alcohol teens consume is through binge drinking.
  • As they get older, they tend to participate in this type of consumption even more.
  • In 2010, 18% of all high school students admitted to binge drinking.
  • More than 5 million young people report binging at least once a month.
  • 1.3 million teens admit to bingeing five or more times during the last month.

It's time to pay closer attention to these facts and statistics. Underage drinking isn't going away anytime soon. Pretending it doesn't exist, or doesn't apply to your child doesn't work.

Parents need to be active in learning if their children are drinking under the age of 21. If they are, they need to know what to do about it. It's helpful to learn more about what causes teens to consume alcohol, and what the effects are.

Why do Teens Use Alcohol? The Causes of Teenage Drinking

There are so many reasons why young people abuse alcohol. In fact, most teens drink for a variety of different reasons. It's impossible to narrow it down to just one. In fact, the same can be said for the causes of drug abuse among youths.

Teens will frequently drink because:

  • They are being pressured by their friends to consume alcohol.
  • They want to feel more grown up than they are.
  • They've seen their parents drinking.
  • They're curious about what it is like.
  • They're self-medicating depression, anxiety, or another mental illness.
  • They want to rebel.
  • They're simply bored.
  • They want to have a good time.
  • They've become alcoholics.

How Does Drinking Underage Effect Teenagers?

Drinking underage has a profound effect on teens. Neither their bodies nor their minds are equipped to handle alcohol. There is a very good reason why the legal drinking age is 21 in the United States.

It's important to understand the effects of teenage drinking on the brain and on the body.

You can find thousands of teenage drinking articles online that discuss the effects of alcohol on the brain. Teens often think they're old enough to handle alcohol. However, research tells a very different story.

When it comes to alcohol, the short-term consequences for teens include:

  • Struggling to make good decisions.
  • Being unaware of risky or inappropriate behavior.
  • Being more likely to become aggressive or violent.
  • Being unable to recognize a dangerous situation.
  • Being more likely to drive under the influence of alcohol.

How does alcohol affect the brain long-term? Research shows that:

  • It can make it difficult to process new information.
  • Learning and memory may be negatively impacted.
  • It increases the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder as an adult.
  • An increased risk of impaired motor skills and coordination.
  • The risk of lifelong brain damage.

Young people tend to think that alcohol is safe because it's legal for adults. They fail to realize that it can have significant, negative effects on them physically. Some of these effects include:

  • The risk of poisoning
  • Uncontrollable nausea and vomiting
  • Problems with urination
  • Hormone disruption
  • Problems with their breathing
  • The disruption of their sleeping patterns
  • Vision disturbances.

What are the Health Concerns Related to Binge Drinking?

Thousands of teenage drinking articles tell us that the effects of binge drinking for teens are even more concerning. Considering the fact that most young drinkers binge, it's important to know the health issues.

The physical effects of binge drinking should not be ignored. This type of consumption is dangerous for teens, and it can involve:

  • Bouts of fainting
  • The risk of blacking out
  • The onset of seizures
  • Problems with breathing
  • The risk of alcohol poisoning
  • Nausea and vomiting

The longer binge drinking continues for teens, the more serious the problem becomes. The long-term consequences of bingeing include:

  • The risk of heart disease
  • The risk of developing neurological problems
  • The risk of liver problems
  • The probability of stomach ulcers
  • The risk of a coma or even death

Is Teen Alcoholism a Possibility?

It is very possible for a teenager to become an alcoholic. This is because the neural connections within their brains are still being formed. When it is used repeatedly, the memories and experiences associated with it are strengthened.

This is what makes teens much more vulnerable to alcoholism than adults are. The longer a young person uses alcohol, the stronger those memories become. It explains why teens will frequently do things they didn't intend to do when it comes to drinking. They wouldn't take many of the risks they do without these strong neural connections.

Advice for Parents

You may be the parent of an underage drinker. Or, perhaps you're a parent who wants to prevent your son or daughter from drinking alcohol. Either way, your situation is not easy. The pressure to drink can be very strong at times. It will help for you to know what to do.

If your teenager has not started drinking, you are quite fortunate. It's important for you to know how to prevent him or her from starting. There are some steps you can take to do this:

  • Be an authoritative parent, which means a lot of discipline when needed, and a lot of praise and warmth.
  • Make sure you are modeling responsible drinking behaviors.
  • Talk with your kids about the dangers of teen drinking. Use articles and essays to support your stance, and do this as often as you can.
  • Get professional mental help for your teenager if you're concerned about a psychiatric problem.
  • Work closely with other parents to ensure that your child isn't consuming alcohol.
  • Always be clear about the rules regarding consumption, in or out of your home.

The good news is that most young people believe their parents should have a say in their consumption. This means that laying the proper foundation now may prevent teen alcohol abuse for your child.

For some parents, their children have already started drinking. It's easy to see how these moms and dads might want to give up. However, the battle is far from over. You can still have a strong influence in your child's life by doing the following:

  • Let your teenager know that you're there for him or her. Tell them that they can talk with you, even if they're uncomfortable, or think you'll get angry.
  • Make sure your teens know about the dangers of alcohol use for young people. They need to hear this from you often.
  • Talk about the long-term consequences of alcohol for teens. Discuss health, weight gain and potential mental health issues.
  • Outline the consequences of drinking for your teen. Make sure they understand.
  • Get to know your child's friends and their parents.
  • Don't be afraid to share your own experiences with drinking as a teen, if you have them.

It's possible that your teen really doesn't want to drink. However, he or she might not know the best way to say no. Here are some ideas you can offer your son or daughter:

  • Tell them to just say no, and leave it at that.
  • Tell them to change the subject and start talking about something else.
  • Have them suggest they do a different activity.
  • Encourage them to find other friends to support their desire not to drink.
  • Encourage them to walk away if the pressure becomes too much.

Help for Your Underage Drinker is Available

If you have a young person who consumes in your home, getting help is so important.

At Northpoint Seattle, we can provide alcohol treatment for your son or daughter.

Parents are often very concerned about sending their children away to alcohol rehab. They're right to have reservations. You'll find that our IOP program is flexible enough that your teen can still attend school. He or she can get the needed assistance on a schedule that works for them.

As a mom or a dad with an underage drinker at home, your worries are completely understandable. You need answers and you need help. It would be a privilege to provide you with both.

Do you need more information on underage drinking? Please contact us.

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