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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Rethinking Drinking

Underage Drinking

two boys drinking alcohol

Research shows that children whose parents are actively involved in their lives are less likely to drink. A child with a parent who binge drinks is much more likely to binge than a child whose parents don't.

Underage drinking is when anyone under the minimum legal drinking age of 21 drinks alcohol. Aside from being illegal, it is a widespread public health problem that poses many risks.

Underage drinking attracts many adolescents and teens. Research shows that the brain continues to develop well into a person's twenties. Alcohol can seriously impact the developing brain. Young people often don't realize the damage drinking can have on themselves, their families, and communities.

As kids get older, they drink more. By age 15, half of teens have had at least one drink; by 18, more than 70 percent have had at least one drink.
Binge Drinking—Young people average about 5 drinks on a single occasion.
Death—5,000 people under 21 die each year from alcohol—related car crashes, homicides, suicides, alcohol poisoning, and falls, burns, drowning, and other accidents.
Violence—Young drinkers are more likely to commit or be the victim of physical or sexual assault.

Underage Drinking Warning Signs

  • Academic and/or behavioral problems
  • Changing groups of friends
  • Less interest in activities and/or appearance
  • Alcohol on a young person's breath
  • Slurred speech
  • Coordination problems
  • Memory and/or concentration problems

The Role Parents Play

Parents can help their children avoid alcohol problems by:

  • Discussing the dangers of drinking
  • Drinking responsibly, if they choose to drink
  • Serving as positive role models, in general
  • Not making alcohol available
  • Getting to know their children's friends
  • Having regular conversations about life, in general
  • Connecting with other parents about sending clear messages about the importance of not drinking
  • Supervising all parties to make sure there is no alcohol
  • Encouraging kids to participate in healthy activities that do not involve alcohol

Spring 2014 Issue: Volume 9 Number 1 Page 25