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Facts About Underage Drinking

Alcohol use is very common in our society.   Because it is sold and drank in so many places, we often forget how risky drinking can be for young people.  Parents, please do not underestimate how dangerous alcohol can be for teens.  Alcohol kills more teens than all other illegal drugs combined, and negatively affects lives in dozens of ways.

The Facts

Many alcohol dangers can happen to adults as well as teens, but teens are at increased risk due to where the brain is at developmentally; it is in a period of heightened neuroplasticity. Given this:

  • The adolescent brain is very sensitive to alcohol and drugs, and addictions happen faster. The connections being formed in the brain of a teen drinker can become connections for future addictions. This is part of the reason why 90% of addictions have roots in the teen years. Think about that…90%! It takes a teen only six months to develop a full blown addiction. For an adult, it takes years.
  • The first area of the brain impacted by alcohol (the frontal lobe) is also a late-maturing center for reasoning and decision-making. This means teen drinkers are further impairing an area of the brain that is already underdeveloped leading to decisions that can carry consequences for a lifetime. One more quick fact, it takes only 30 seconds for alcohol to pass the blood-brain barrier.
  • Teens are more resilient to the sedative effects of alcohol. This means teens often stay awake and drink more without understanding their thought processes are impacted and response time is compromised. This can lead to increased number of motor vehicle crashes, and consequences including physical assaults, arguments, etc.
  • Research suggests heavy alcohol consumption during the teen years can cause brain damage when it would only cause sedation in an adult.
  • Alcohol use can result in lower scores on vocabulary and memory tests as well as visual and special tests.
  • Limited life experience – When under the influence of alcohol (or other psychoactive drugs), making wise decisions becomes harder for anyone.  Add this to the tendency for young people to take more risks and the likelihood of experiencing destructive outcomes becomes substantial when youth drink.
  • Alcohol use disturbs sleep cycles, which again affects learning and memory.
  • Frequent heavy use of alcohol is associated with low self-esteem, depression, conduct disorders, anti-social behavior and anxiety in adolescents.
  • There are positives to this period of heightened neuroplasticity. It is an excellent time to intervene if a problem is starting to take hold and addictions are beginning to form. If you address concerns at this time, positive connections can be made and connections for addiction and other concerns can be weeded out.

Alcohol has direct effects on a body, and also can influence:

  • Increased Illicit Drug Use: More than 67% of young people who start drinking before the age of 15 will try an illicit drug. Children who drink alcohol are over 22 times more likely to use marijuana, and 50 times more likely to use cocaine than children who never drink.
  • Sexual activity: Alcohol use by teens is a strong predictor of both sexual activity and unprotected sex. A survey of high school students found that 18 percent of females and 39 percent of males say it is acceptable for a boy to force sex if the girl is high or drunk.
  • Violence: Children who start drinking before age 15 are 12 times more likely to be injured while under the influence of alcohol and 10 times more likely to be in a fight after drinking, compared with those who wait until they are 21 to drink.
  • School: Student substance use precedes, and is a risk factor for, academic problems, such as lower grades, absenteeism and high dropout rates. Alcohol can interfere with a student’s ability to think, making learning and concentration more difficult and ultimately impeding academic performance. In fact, the more a student uses alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, the lower his grade point average is likely to be and the more likely he is to drop out of school.
  • Driving: When young people drink and get into a car, they tend to make poor decisions that impact their safety. Traffic crashes are the number one killer of teens and over one-third of teen traffic deaths are alcohol-related.

*info taken directly from http://www.theantidrug.com/drug-information/commonly-abused-drugs/alcohol.aspx 

Long-term Health Consequences

  • Adolescence is critical to brain development and many recent studies show that the brain is not fully mature until the mid-twenties.  As a result, the adolescent brain is very sensitive to alcohol and drugs, and addiction happens much faster. (Adolescents who drink before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21. An adolescent may become addicted to alcohol in as little as 6-18 months.)
  • Drinking while pregnant (whether or not one is aware of being pregnant) puts one’s “babies at risk for a wide range of physical, cognitive, and behavioral problems” (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).  These effects, collectively known as “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, are usually lifelong and range from mild to devastating in severity.
  • Youth that drink alcohol in their adolescence have shown elevated liver enzymes, indicating some degree of liver damage.
  • Drinking alcohol during puberty has shown to adversely affect the maturation of the reproductive system in youth.

Illinois has strict laws against underage drinking.  Providing alcohol to minors puts you and the child at risk!

  • It is illegal to purchase alcohol for a minor or knowingly allow underage drinking in your home.  Purchasers could face jail time and fines. Here are the specifics of the Illinois Social Host Law: 1.) It is unlawful for any parent or guardian to knowingly authorize, enable, or permit consumption of alcoholic liquor by underage invitees at his or her residence, or any other private property under his or her control. Any person who violates this subsection is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor and the person’s sentence shall include, but shall not be limited to, a fine of not less than $500. 2.) Where a violation of this subsection directly or indirectly results in great bodily harm or death to any person, the person violating this subsection shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony and could get a record and serve jail time.
  • It is illegal for anyone under 21 to possess or consume alcohol.  Minors can be fined and subsequent violations are punishable by jail time.