Underaged drinking has often been considered a rite of passage. It is often seen as a subject that doesn’t need to be taken seriously and can even be quite humorous, but in many cases the opposite is also true. Underage drinking can destroy lives, ruin relationships, and rob young people of their future potential – and sometimes all it takes is one drink.
According to the CDC, underaged drinking is a major public health hazard because alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug in today’s youth.
In 2010, the last year official statistics have been made available; there were about 189,000 emergency room visits by those under the drinking age because of an injury or a condition that was directly linked to alcohol. The dangers of underaged drinking are clear, yet the statistics of injuries, problematic conditions, and emergency room visits are rising.
Three Fast Facts About Underaged Drinking
1. 11% of the alcohol that is consumed in the United States every year is done so by kids aged 12-20, even though it is illegal in all 50 states.
2. More than 90% of the alcohol that is consumed by underaged drinkers is done so during binging sessions.
3. 8% of underaged drinkers got behind the wheel and drove somewhere after they had been drinking alcohol.
Takeaway: It would be one thing if a majority of kids were just having a sip of their parent’s beer or sneaking a drink or two out of the liquor cabinet. That’s just not the case, however, because 9 out of every 10 kids who are underaged drinkers are having 5 or more drinks in less than 2 hours. In comparison, just 1 out of 6 adults who drink will do binge drinking. It isn’t the lower income households that are most at risk for this to occur either. Households that have incomes of $75k or more are more likely to have kids and adults that are binge drinkers.
What Happens When Underaged Drinking Occurs?
1. 25% of youth aged 12-20 admit that they drink alcohol on a regular basis and 16% admit to regular binge drinking.
2. Kids who drink alcohol are more likely to experience school problems that may include failing grades or absenteeism.
3. Legal problems are more likely to occur with underaged drinkers than they are to youth who choose not to drink.
4. Unwanted or unplanned sexual activity is more likely in the underaged drinking demographic.
5. Kids who drink are at a higher risk of death from both suicide and homicide.
6. Underaged drinking can cause changes in the brain’s development that can create lifelong issues with memory, learning, and even coordination.
7. Social problems are common in underaged drinking and can include fighting and isolation.
Takeaway: Although drinking seems like it can be a lot of fun and is often viewed as a coping skill, it is anything but one. Alcohol causes a lot of problems in a growing body that go beyond the liver’s ability to process the alcohol. Learning problems can affect grades now and the ability to get a good job later on in life. Alcohol can encourage other drug use when the desired effects of the alcohol fail to make themselves known. Then there’s the issue of getting behind the wheel to drive after drinking that can cause extensive jail time and destroyed families if the unthinkable should occur. Underaged drinking might be glorified in some circles, but the evidence is clear that is shouldn’t be whatsoever.
How Often Does Underaged Drinking Occur?
1. In the last 30 days, 26.4% of youth aged 12-20 have had alcohol at least once.
2. 72% of students have had at least one drink before they graduate from high school. 37% of students have had their first drink before the end of the eighth grade.
3. From 2002-2008, the rates of underaged drinking on a regular basis declined in every age demographic.
4. Only 30% of underaged drinkers paid for the last drink that they had. More than 20% of these underaged drinkers paid someone else to provide the alcohol for them.
5. More than 20% of underaged drinkers who didn’t pay for their last drink got it from their parent, guardian, or another family member.
6. 56% of underaged drinkers had their last drink at someone else’s home. Another 29% had their last drink in their own home.
7. Caucasian kids are the most likely to choose underaged drinking. Asian kids are the least likely, at just 16%, to choose to drink under the legal age.
Takeaway: What is disturbing about these statistics is that 70% of kids are getting their drinks for free from someone. It could be at a party, at a friend’s house, or their parent’s liquor cabinet, but the fact remains that a majority of kids don’t even need to pay for the alcohol they are using to get a buzz. 20% of family members in the United States are even providing the alcohol directly to their kids! Considering the health dangers of alcohol, the future learning dangers, and all of the other risks associated with underaged drinking, that’s a decision that hardly seems to speak of love.
How Big is the Underaged Drinking Problem?
1. Eighth grade students who have reported getting drunk in the past 30 days has declined by 54% since 1991.
2. Tenth grade students who have reported getting drunk in the past 30 days has declined by 38% since 1991.
3. 39% of high school seniors reported that they have been drinking at least once in the last 30 days, a decline of 27% over the last 20 years.
4. Alcohol related vehicle fatalities have declined 60% since data has been being tracked in the underaged population.
5. Only 1% of kids at the age of 12 report regular alcohol consumption that is current.
6. 72% of eighth grade students report that they have never drank alcohol before.
7. Only 13% of 10th graders reported that they had been drunk at least once in the last 30 days, which is the lowest percentage that has been recorded since data has been being tracked.
Takeaway: Although the underaged drinking numbers seem staggering in some aspects, the reality is that they are down dramatically and some of the statistics have been halved. This means that intervention programs are working, home education efforts are working, and households are beginning to realize what kind of dangers are associated with underaged drinking. This should be celebrated, but with a caveat. Although there are many great successes that can be seen, there is still much work to be done. If just one kid gets behind the wheel while drunk, there are numerous lives that are at risk because of that decision.
When Do Kids Start Drinking?
1. For boys, the average age that they took their very first drink was 11. For girls, their average age for the first drink of alcohol that they’ve had is 13.
2. 56% of underaged drivers who were killed while behind the wheel after drinking were not wearing their seat belt.
3. 32% of high school seniors report that they’ve never had a drink.
4. Having the legal drinking age be 21 has reduced the amount of estimated alcohol-related traffic fatalities by 13%.
5. Only 4.3% of 12-20 year old boys consider themselves to be heavy drinkers.
6. In 2011, 5% of high school students reported that they’d had at least one alcoholic drink while on school property.
7. 81% of people who first began using alcohol in the past year were under the age of 21.
Takeaway: The issue of underaged drinking may be a bit of a rite of passage, but there is also the thrill of breaking the law involved in the process as well. After all, once you take a drink and you’re under 21, you’re doing something you’re not supposed to do and that brings with it an adrenaline rush that can be equally addicting! Add to that the fact that alcohol is so easy to get, even from parents sometimes, and it is easy to see why so many of today’s first drinkers are below the age of 21. The encouraging aspect of these statistics, however, is that the overall numbers are declining.
What Problems Need to Get Fixed?
1. 68% of kids aged 12-17 who considered themselves heavy drinkers were also currently using illicit drugs.
2. 24% of high school students report that they have ridden in a vehicle that they knew was being driven by someone who was drunk.
3. When a first drink is taken at the age of 14 or younger, that individual is seven times more likely to have some form of alcohol dependence, addiction, or abuse as an adult than those who have their first drink at age 21 or higher.
4. 26% of 15-20 year olds who were killed in a traffic accident while driving after drinking at a blood alcohol content level above 0.08.
5. Almost 2,000 college students die each year because of alcohol-related injuries, with a majority of them occurring in motor vehicle crashes.
6. 1 out of every 4 college students suffers academically because of the effects of underaged drinking.
7. The children of parents who drink regularly or binge drink are twice as likely to engage in the same practices.
Takeaway: Kids are looking for role models and unfortunately what they see are parents who are more than willing to abuse alcohol themselves for a wide variety of reasons. Underaged drinkers don’t necessarily comprehend the adult stressors that drive someone to drink – they just see the choices that are being made. Because of this, there are kids who are drinking regularly and even binge drinking when a change in their environment would completely prevent this from happening. How does this get changed? It starts with households, parents, guardians, and family members. If kids see healthy coping skills being used to deal with stressful or anxious situations, then they will be more likely to use healthy coping skills instead of choosing to drink as well.
How Can The Problem Be Fixed?
1. Schools, friends, families, a community, and even the general society that revolves around kids are their greatest influencers.
2. Adults are often the reason why kids are able to get their hands on alcohol.
3. The average 6 year old kid believes that an alcoholic beverage is only for adults. Just 3 years later, however, that attitude begins to change, which means parents need to talk to their kids early about the dangers of underaged drinking.
4. Teens say that they rely on adults more than anyone else to help them make tough decisions in life, such as if they should drink or not drink alcohol.
5. Staying involved in a child’s life can be the greatest deterrent to underaged drinking that there can be.
6. Believing that underaged drinking is an inevitable part of the cycle of life will simply allow it to continue.
7. Sharing knowledge about underaged drinking and providing support programs for kids that need help can further reduce the abuses of alcohol.
Takeaway: Whether you believe that it takes a community to raise a child or just a strong parental influence, the reality is that kids base their life decisions off of what they see the important adults in their lives doing. If parents are simply giving their kids alcohol as a means of preventing alcohol abuse occurring somewhere else, there really is nothing good coming out of that situation. Binge drinking, underaged drinking, and any regular alcohol consumption can lead to a lifetime of problems. Instead of being enablers, the adults in every community need to become informers and practice good habits. That doesn’t mean no one can drink alcohol. It just means that it needs to be done appropriately. That way today’s children can become tomorrow’s great leaders.