FACT: In Illinois, 38.5% of eighth graders have drunk alcohol in the past year—a rate that is far higher than the national average of around 30%.

This alarming statistic is just the tip of the iceberg, however, because this same survey of Illinois teens shows that by senior year in high school, nearly 66% say they have started drinking. Add in prom night, when 87% kids say they will drink on that evening, and you have an underage drinking problem that is out of control—and headed for the inevitable (but avoidable) tragedies of car accidents, risky behavior, poor decision-making, health implications, and trouble with school, parents and the law​.

Prevention is critical, and experts say it has to start sooner than you may think. How soon? Before high school. And that it has to start with parents. Not with the school. Not with the community. Not even with your family doctor (although all have a role). Parents. We’ll say it again. Parents are the key.

Why? Studies show that in children eighth grade and below, parents have the most influence over a child’s decisions and behavior. By high school, peer pressure starts to kick in, but until then, parental opinion rules. In addition, new laws in Illinois hold parents legally responsible for underage drinking. Yes, you could even go to jail.mary

So parents, this is your moment to make a difference. In this section of the website, we have included the information you need to start talking to your child, including messaging from our Talk It Up! Parental responsibility campaign. For many of you, this may be a wake-up call—who knew drinking was a problem at such an early age? And who knew that parents could be held accountable? For others, it may be just the opening you need to start having those critical—and yes, potentially lifesaving—conversations with your child. Here at ILCC, we like to say “talk early and talk often.” And now that you are armed with the facts, that’s exactly what you can do.

Not convinced? Consider these consequences of underage drinking ​

FACT: Underage drinking has consequences!

For young teens they include:

  • Suspension from school
  • Suspension or expulsion from sports teams
  • Trouble with law enforcement
  • Injury
  • Higher risk of physical and sexual assault
  • Doing poorly in school; failing grades, absenteeism
  • Poor decision making and judgment
  • Risky sexual behavior, including unprotected sex that can lead to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, HPV, chlamydia
  • Social humiliation
  • Hangovers/illness/vomiting
  • Alcohol poisoning (which can result in death)
  • Unruly behavior that can result in fighting, property destruction, even death
  • Increased likelihood of tobacco use
  • Increased likelihood of trying/using other drugs
  • Higher rates of alcoholism/drug dependence later in life for children/teens who drink at an early age (rates are 5 TIMES higher)
  • Associated with higher rates of homicide, suicide and motor vehicle crashes
  • Affects brain development (brain doesn’t stop developing until age 25). Problems can include neurological impairment leading to memory lapses, slowed neural impulses and irresponsible decision-making…these are LIFELONG effects

Learn more: What the research says

FACT: Here’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics says: “Although the minimum legal drinking age is 21 years, alcohol use by youth continues to be a major problem in the United States. Alcohol consumption can interfere with adolescent brain development, and use of alcohol early in life is associated with future alcohol-related problems.”

Some of the best and brightest minds in science back this up. Below are research highlights revealing the havoc underage drinking plays on social, emotional and physical development of children.

The economic consequences for Illinois

FACT: Underage drinking cost the citizens of Illinois $2.9 billion in 2010.
(source: http://www.udetc.org/factsheets/IL.pdf)

These costs include medical care, work loss and pain and suffering associated with the multiple problems resulting from the use of alcohol by youth. This translates into a cost of $2,276 per year for each youth in the state (or $3.26 for each drink consumed underage—in contrast, the average drink in Illinois retails for $1.12).

Here is how the costs broke out in 2010:

  • Youth Violence $1.892 billion
  • Youth Traffic Crashes: $328 million
  • High Risk Sex (ages 14 to 20) : $244 million
  • Youth Property Crime: $167 million
  • Youth Injury: $110 million
  • Poisonings and Psychoses: $31 million
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (among mothers aged 15 to 20): $59 million
  • Youth Alcohol Treatment: $98 million

Myths and facts about underage drinking

Many parents don’t see underage drinking as the major problem that it is today in Illinois because of outdated or uninformed beliefs. Here are some of the biggest misconceptions:

“Kids will be kids”

Exactly. Which is why you need to provide informed, responsible guidance about drinking. The part of the brain involved in judgment and decision-making doesn’t fully develop until age 25. This means that your kids need your help to make good decisions.

“I drank as a teen, so I don’t want to be a hypocrite with my child.”

It is a very different landscape today, with much higher consequences for you and your child. Underage drinking is against the law. This law is enforced in Illinois. Depending on your community, if your child is caught drinking, he or she could face suspension from school or sports teams which, in turn, could affect college admissions or future plans. If you know your child drinks, and you do not intervene, you could face legal sanctions.

“If my child drinks, I’d prefer that he or she does it in our home where I can supervise.”

No, no, no. Allowing anyone under age 21 to drink in your home is against the law. You are subject to fines and potential legal action.

“What’s one drink?”

In a word, everything. Alcohol is a typically the gateway to other substance use/abuse. Know this: A child who drinks at age 15 is four to five times more likely to be an alcoholic later in life.

“Teen drinking is normal. It is not a problem.”

In Illinois, underage drinking is a huge problem, costing the state $2.9 billion annually. It is a public health issue, and drinking is a factor in the leading causes of teen death—accidents, suicide and homicide. Under the influence of alcohol, kids and teens tend to make poor decisions, including having unprotected sex or putting themselves in a situation where physical or sexual assault may occur. Alcohol is also associated with poor grades and behavioral and social problems. It interferes with development; heavy use is linked to poor self esteem, depression, anxiety and dependency on other drugs or tobacco. Yes, it is a problem.

“As a parent, there is nothing I can do…when kids want to drink they will find a way.”

Parents have far more control than they think, especially if they start the conversation about alcohol early. Surveys continually show that parental opinion matters, and that it is far and away the best deterrent to teen alcohol use. But parents, you have to step up and step into your child’s life. Talk to him or her about consequences. Share your opinions. Offer support. Be tough yet loving. And yes, kids who want to drink will look for a way to get alcohol. It is your job as a parent to make it hard for them to access it—and give them alternatives. ​