Health and Social Consequences

Health and social consequences of underage drinking

Many parents feel they are being hypocritical telling their teenage sons and daughters not to drink. But the sobering facts are these: Parents today have access to scientific data that was not available when they were teens, especially regarding the health and social costs of underage drinking. For example:

  •  The brain is still developing and going through dynamic change during the teenage years. A recent study by the American Medical Association concluded that "damage from alcohol at this time can be long-term and irreversible. In addition, short-term or moderate drinking impairs learning and memory far more in youth than adults. Adolescents need only drink half as much to suffer the same negative effects."
  • According to a recent U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report, someone who starts drinking before the age of 15 years is FIVE TIMES more likely to become an alcoholic later in life than those who wait until they are 21 years of age.
  • Teenagers who drink have a higher absence rate at school and are more likely to experience poor or failing grades.
  • In addition to hangovers, teens who binge drink experience a host of other physical ailments, including damage to the internal organs and stomach, disruption of normal growth and sexual activity, a higher risk of certain cancers (particulary oral and liver), and raised blood pressure which can contribute to heart disease. Doctors believe these negative physical effects are far more pronounced in the young, as alcohol will tend to have more effect on their developing bodies.
  • Plus, teens who binge drink will likely be fatter than their fellow students since alcohol is loaded with a lot of carbohydrates, the primary cause of weight gain.
  • Teenagers who drink are more likely to be physically or sexually assaulted, are at a higher risk for suicide and homicide, and will experience more unintentional injuries, often leading to an early death. For example, alcohol was consumed in 69 percent of teen drownings.
  • A lower legal drinking age will likely NOT lead to more responsible alcohol use. While teen binge drinking rates in the U.S. are unacceptably high (22 percent), these rates are higher in Europe - even in countries such as France (28 percent) and Italy (34 percent), where the legal drinking age is 16 and it is acceptable for children to have "a glass of wine at the dinner table."
  • A more permissive parenting approach to alcohol may encourage drinking but not necessarily safe, responsible drinking. A study in the May 2011 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that children who drank alcohol in front of their parents tended to drink more and encounter more alcohol-related trouble later on, including more fights, blackouts, regrettable sex, and binge-drinking incidents.
  • The increase in the availability of "alcopops" has been cited as making alcohol far more attractive to younger people. This fact led to passage of the Alcopops Law which limits the advertising of these flavored drinks. Research has shown that 13-16 year-old girls are particularly attracted to alcopops, and those who drink it are more likely to have casual sex.
  • As for the parents, the legal consequences of their actions can be quite severe, and continue to expand. For example, it is now a felony for parents to knowingly allow underage drinking in their home if it leads to injury or death.
  • Additionally, ANYONE can now be held accountable for allowing underage consumption in their home after Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Social Host Law into effect for 2013. Violators are subject to a Class A misdemeanor and a minimum fine of $500.00 (felony charges are also applicable if the consumption leads to injury or death). No charges will be filed if the police are called after discovery of the illegal activity.
  • In addition to the tragic health and social costs, our state's economy is adversely affected by underage drinking as well. For example, it is estimated that alcohol use by Illinois youth results in nearly $1 billion a year in medical care and work loss. The cost to Illinois citizens balloons to over $3 billion a year when including pain and suffering from these injuries.

Sources for above information:
American Medical Association (AMA).
British Medical Association (BMA).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
Stepping Stone Center for Recovery.