Family Health

A Focus on Staying Alcohol-Free

Younger than you think

Here’s a parenting wake-up call: the average age an American girl has her first drink is 13; for a boy, it's 11. The moment your child may be confronted with a decision about alcohol is younger than you think.

Education is important

These startling numbers are the reason why I speak with more and more of my patients about the dangers of alcohol. Underage and binge drinking is risky. It can lead to car accidents, violent behavior, alcohol poisoning, and other health problems. Drinking at a young age greatly increases the risk of developing alcohol problems later in life. Talking to kids early and openly about the risks of drinking can help reduce their chances of becoming problem drinkers.

This National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week® is a great opportunity to link students with scientists and other experts to counteract the myths about drugs and alcohol that teens get from the internet, social media, TV, movies, music, or from friends. Instead, teens can learn what science has taught us about drug use and addiction. 

Let’s look at the facts. 

According to the CDC, alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States. According to Columbia University, 11.4 percent of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. is consumed by persons under the age of 21.

In 2013, the Youth Risk Behaviour Survey reported that during the past 30 days: 

  • 35 percent of underage high school students admitted to drinking alcohol
  • 21 percent of these students reported binge drinking
  • 22 percent reported riding with a driver who had been drinking alcohol
  • 10 percent reported driving after drinking alcohol

Helping teens understand the consequences of underage drinking is the first step. 

  • In 2010, more than189,000 emergency room visits were linked to injuries and other conditions related to underage drinking
  • 5,000 underage youths die every year in the U.S. due to excessive drinking
    • 1,900 (38 percent) of these deaths involve motor vehicle crashes
    • 1,600 (32 percent) involve homicide
    • 300 (6 percent) result in suicide
  • 45 percent of people who die in crashes involving an underage drinking driver are people other than the driver
  • Youths who drink alcohol are more likely to fail in school and later become less successful in the workplace as an adult
  • Teens who report drinking before the age of 10 are more likely to engage in high risk sexual behaviors, leading to an increased risk of sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancies
    • Of the nearly 40 percent of currently sexually active students nationwide, more than 23 percent report that their last episode of intercourse involved recent alcohol consumption
  • Youth who begin drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol abuse or dependence as adults than those who wait until after 21 years
  • The average age for first alcohol consumption is 11 years old for boys, 13 years old for girls
    • 10 percent report drinking by the age of 9 or 10
  • Teens who are heavy drinkers are three times more likely to intentionally hurt themselves than those who are not
  • Alcohol use in adolescence increases the risk of using other illicit drugs
  • Children of alcoholics are 4-10 times more likely to become alcoholics than those raised by non-alcoholic adults
  • Heavy alcohol use can lead to oral, larynx, pharynx and esophageal cancer in addition to liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis and hemorrhagic stroke. These risk increases the longer a person drinks
  • Alcohol use as a teen can disrupt normal growth and sexual development
  • Heavy alcohol use can slow brain development and lead to long term problems with memory and intellect

The key to preventing underage drinking is education. Research has shown parents who take an active role in educating their children about the dangers of alcohol and drug use are 50 percent less likely to use these substances. By being open and honest with children about the facts of underage drinking we can increase their awareness of the consequences and prevent them from becoming another statistic. 

If you need help talking to your kids about drinking, talk to your Methodist Physicians Clinic health care provider.

About the Author

Dr. Lindsay Northam is very passionate about patient care. In order to deliver exceptional care for people, she believes it is important to form strong patient relationships.

Dr. Northam believes that all patients should leave her clinic at Methodist Physicians Clinic feeling they were truly heard and respected.

See more articles from Lindsay Northam, MD
Photo of Lindsay Northam, MD