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The Dangers of Underage Drinking

What is Underage Drinking and Why is it so Dangerous?

Underage drinking has never been a more serious problem than it is right now.

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Alcohol is most commonly used substance among teenagers in the United States. Because of this, young people all over the country are at a great risk. For them, consuming alcohol can lead to serious health and safety issues. There are serious consequences that can result from underage drinking. These are concerns that affect everyone, regardless of how old they are or where they live. No one in the U.S. - adult, child or teen - is immune from them. Each year, alcohol use among teens contributes to instances of:

  • Violent behavior
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Property damage
  • Unintended and intended injuries
  • Deaths

Underage drinking is something that everyone should be concerned about. This includes parents who suspect that their children might be drinking. It also includes teenagers who are participating in this dangerous activity.

You may be a parent who is worried about your child. You may have noticed many clues that your son or daughter was drinking behind your back. Or, perhaps you're a teenager, and you've been coerced into drinking alcohol with your friends. You can see where it has become a problem, but you're not sure what to do about it. Either way, you need help.

Getting the information you need about underage drinking is the key to taking action. Teen alcoholism is nothing to joke about, and it's a problem that's only going to get worse. The more you know about the dangers of teen drinking, the better.

Underage Drinking Information

What is Underage Drinking?

Underage drinking is defined as the consumption of alcohol by anyone under the age of 21. It is something that many youths look at as a rite of passage. For them, it is nothing but a stepping stone into adulthood. Even so, underage drinking is actually a public health hazard. It puts more and more teen lives at risk every single year.

Underage drinking is a direct threat to teens' development and health. Actually, research has shown that the developing adolescent brain may be very susceptible to damage because of long-term alcohol use.

Unfortunately, teen drinking is frequently a problem that is overlooked in the United States. Even though more teenagers currently use alcohol more often than other substances, including tobacco. Teens may drink less often than adults do, but they tend to consume more at one time. They will often drink as many as five drinks in a single sitting.

How Common is Binge Drinking Among Teens?

The good news is that binge drinking rates have seen a decline over the last few years. From 2002 to 2014, binge drinking rates among those under the age of 21 have gone down. Still, that doesn't mean that this type of behavior is not common among the youth.

It has been found that more than 5 million young people between the ages of 12 and 20 are binge drinkers.

Another 1.3 million teens reported drinking heavily on regular occasions. Also, 77% of underage drinkers only drink when they're in a group of people. Just over 6% of them state that they only drink while they're alone.

While it is good that binge drinking rates are going down, it's still a serious problem. Unless this problem is addressed, more teens will continue to fall victim to it.

Underage Drinking Stats You Should Know About

Many of the more recent underage drinking facts and statistics are staggering. For a problem that continues to be ignored, it's certainly prevalent across the United States.

Underage drinking statistics from the CDC tell us that:

  • There are more than 4,300 deaths among underage individuals every year because of excessive drinking.
  • These deaths have cost the U.S. $24 billion in 2010.
  • People between the ages of 12 and 20 are responsible for consuming 11% of all alcohol in the United States.
  • Binge drinking is responsible for more than 90% of the alcohol that is consumed.
  • There were more about 189,000 emergency room visits by people under the age of 21 in 2010. All of these were linked to alcohol consumption.
  • In 2015, it was found that 18% of all high school students binge drank on at least one occasion.
  • 8% of these students drove after they consumed alcohol.
  • 20% of them rode with someone who was driving drunk.
  • 33% of them drank at least some amount of alcohol during the last 30 days.

Do these statistics shock you? There has never been a better time to attack the problem of underage drinking than right now.

The Dangers of Teen Drinking Explained

Teen drinking is dangerous, in every sense of the word. Underage drinkers put themselves in harm's way every time they decide to drink alcohol. Just a few of those dangers include:

The Risk of Death

Thousands of young people die every year because of underage drinking. Their deaths are all linked to alcohol use. However, they include car crashes, homicides, suicides, alcohol poisoning, drowning and burns. It's incredible to think of how many lives would have been saved if they had not started drinking.

The Risk of Injury

The risk of injury is very real for underage drinkers. So many teens have accidents, get hurt and require immediate medical attention as a result of their drinking. These are injuries that could have easily been avoided.

Impaired Judgment

Drinking often leads to risky behaviors in adults, and the same is true for teens that drink. They frequently make poor decisions because of their lack of good judgment. They may drink and drive, have unprotected sex, or even become violent.

The Risk of Sexual and Physical Assault

Underage drinkers are much more likely to participate in or be the victims of assault than others. Drinking puts teens in a very vulnerable position. It's easy to take advantage of them. Also, it can make some young people violent.

What Puts Teens at Risk to Become Underage Drinkers

There are so many things that can put young people at risk for underage drinking. As they make the transition from childhood into adulthood, they are going through a number of changes. These changes can be difficult to manage, and not all teens have the support they need. Still, there are a few characteristics that can put them at a great risk for drinking at such young ages. These include:

  • The tendency to take risks
  • Expecting alcohol to be fun
  • Being sensitive to the effects of alcohol
  • Being depressed, antisocial or rebellious
  • Having a genetic predisposition to alcoholism
  • Peer pressure and other environmental factors

All of these can make a teenager much more likely to drink alcohol, or drink it in excess.

Can Teenagers Become Alcoholics?

The simple answer to this question is, yes. Teenagers can become alcoholics, and teenage alcoholism isn't something that's unheard of.

Alcoholism (among teens and adults) begins with alcohol abuse. For a teenager, alcohol abuse involves any use of alcohol whatsoever. This is the case because they are underage. Over time, the brain begins to change as alcohol continues to be abused. It normally produces chemicals that contribute to feelings of security and happiness. Alcohol boosts the number of these chemicals in the brain. As time goes on, the brain “forgets” to make the chemicals on its own.

It is at that point that a teenager becomes an alcoholic.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment for Teens Can Help

Fortunately, alcoholism in teens can be treated. If you're an alcoholic teen, please don't think that you're destined to be this way forever. It can feel as though you'll never be able to escape it, but it is possible. You only need the right kind of alcohol treatment.

First and foremost, it's important to address the physical side of your addiction to alcohol. This is done through alcohol detox. It is performed in a medical setting and it involves removing toxins from the body. There are holistic methods of detoxification, and there are those that involve medications. Detox helps your body rid itself of those toxins so that you feel better faster.

Secondly, once detox is over, you need to attend some type of alcohol rehab. During alcohol rehab, you get to learn why you became addicted to alcohol. If you're a teen alcoholic, this is very important. Unless those underlying issues are addressed, you will suffer a relapse. It has been proven time and time again. Individual therapy sessions, group therapy and other forms of treatment will help you so much.

Once you finish alcohol treatment, ongoing treatment is necessary. You want to be sure that you can sustain your quit.

This can be hard when you try to do it on your own, and without support. For many teens, outpatient treatment is the next step. This involves meeting with a therapist regularly to continue to work on your issues. You may even want to consider going to Alcoholics Anonymous. This offers you a support group setting on an outpatient basis.

Alcoholism within teens is not uncommon, and you are not alone. Fortunately, there is help available for you.

What Information Can We Get From Studies on Underage Drinking?

There are a lot of parents who would rather stay in the dark about teen drinking. But the reality is that while we would like to think that our kids are not participating, many of them are.

One study that was conducted in Norway offered some interesting information. The study involved 8983 youths between the ages of 13 – 19. They found that:

  • 80% of them had tried drinking alcohol at least one time.
  • 57% of them had been intoxicated on at least one occasion.
  • The number of males vs. females who had tried alcohol was around the same.
  • The number of teens who had tried drinking alcohol increased as they got older.
  • Attention and conduct problems were frequently associated with frequent alcohol intoxication for both boys and girls.
  • Symptoms of anxiety and depression among female students was related to higher numbers of intoxication.

Mental Health Issues and How They are Linked to Underage Drinking

It is so important to consider the link between teen mental health problems and alcohol consumption. There is a strong connection, which is why both issues need to be properly addressed during treatment and recovery.

When a person is suffering from a mental health issue and an addiction at the same time, they have a co-occurring disorder. Psychiatric problems are one of the main reasons teens choose to use substances like alcohol. For them, it becomes a way to self-medicate their symptoms away.

Depression is a mental health issue that often afflicts teenagers. Most experts attribute this to the fact that their bodies and minds are changing very rapidly during this time. Those changes can affect so much, including how they think, learn and behave.

When teens are depressed, it can cause them to feel overwhelmingly sad for weeks or months at a time. They may struggle with concentration and they may start to isolate themselves from people and activities they love.

It is not surprising that the CDC states that alcohol is the most commonly abused drug among teens in the U.S. When a teenager drinks – even in small amounts – this could be a sign of underlying depression. Alcohol is fairly easy for teens to obtain when they have the necessary resources. This, and the fact that it is socially acceptable make it a simple way to self-medicate for depression.

Teens with alcohol use disorder are at a higher risk for depression when they start drinking at young ages. Likewise, teens with depression are much more likely to seek out alcohol as a way to calm their symptoms than those without it.

There is also a link between anxiety disorders and teenage alcohol use. A study from the University of Bristol found that there was evidence of a link between generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) at age 18 and excessive drinking three years later.

The study involved more than 2,000 participants. Researchers learned that when a teen was diagnosed with GAD at 18 years of age, it was linked to excessive drinking and binge drinking. This close association continued until the individual became 21 years old, on average.

Maddy Dyer is a PhD student at the University of Bristol. She stated, “Our most important finding was that the relationship between generalized anxiety disorder and harmful drinking at age 18 persists into early adulthood. Helping adolescents to develop positive strategies for coping with anxiety, instead of drinking alcohol, may reduce the risk of future harmful drinking.”

Many teens begin drinking because they have symptoms of anxiety and they believe alcohol will help. But teenage drinking can also modify genes in the amygdala. This can lead to brain abnormalities, and the impact of it can be long-lasting. This means that many teenagers will develop anxiety disorders after they start drinking as well.

Children who have ADHD have a higher risk of abusing alcohol during their teenage years than those who do not. One study involved 364 children who all were diagnosed with ADHD. The children and their parents were interviewed when the study began, and again eight years later. In addition, 120 teens and 120 young adults who had never been diagnosed with ADHD were interviewed as well.

Their findings were very interesting. Not only did they find that children with ADHD were more likely to have drinking problems in their teen years, but they also found that those children were more likely to have problems because of drinking. 5% of teens in the United States are in this position. In their late teen years, 14% of children with ADHD had drinking problems. Teens with ADHD reported being drunk 15 times over the last year, on average. Teens without ADHD reported having been drunk only twice, on average.

ADHD can be a very difficult mental health disorder to manage as a teen. Many of them feel as though they do not fit in with their peers. They may be struggling in school, as well as facing many other problems. In their minds, alcohol offers them an escape and a way to self-medicate.

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes abrupt mood changes and energy and activity level shifts. It can impede a person’s ability to complete everyday tasks. Many teens suffer from this psychiatric disorder, and as a result, they are at risk for underage drinking.

A study was conducted involving 105 young people with bipolar disorder and a non-bipolar control group of 98. The teens’ average age was 14. As the study began, they found that 34% of the teens with bipolar disorder also had a substance abuse disorder. This was true of only 4% of the teens in the control group. Five years later, half of the teens with bipolar disorder also had a substance abuse disorder. Only 26% of the teens without this condition had a problem with drugs or alcohol.

There is a clear link between teen suicide and alcohol abuse. This is especially true for young people who suffer from depression. Many of them claim that they no longer feel like themselves unless they are drinking. But once they start to get sober, they may find that they feel even more depressed. This can lead to suicidal thoughts, and many teens attempt suicide at this point.

To make matters worse, many teens may begin to feel hopeless about abusing alcohol as well. They may not know how to stop, and this problem can compound their symptoms of depression.

The Imagine Program at Northpoint

The Imagine program at Northpoint was designed specifically with teens in mind. Their staff members are very experienced in the area of treating teens with both mental health issues and alcohol abuse disorder. They offer a number of therapy options, including cognitive behavioral therapy and family therapy.

Their program is for young people ages 12-17. They are located in Nampa, Idaho. Clients receive frequent meetings with a psychiatrist to evaluate their progress. They also provide crisis intervention services in the event they are needed.

Finding an Alcohol Rehab Program for Underage Drinkers

Now that you know how dangerous underage drinking is, it's time to do something about it. Are you a teenager who has been drinking excessively? Perhaps you've been binge drinking, but you now can see where it's starting to cause you some real problems. Or, it's possible that you are the parent of a child who is an underage drinker. You're concerned about your son or daughter's health, and you need to know what you can do.

If you're a parent, there is a lot you can do. Have a discussion with your child about his or her behaviors. If your teen doesn't listen to what you have to say, consider scheduling an intervention. Many times, interventions result in teens agreeing to get the help they need to become sober. The worst thing you can do is to ignore the behavior, and hope it goes away. It usually doesn't go away. Alcoholism is a progressive disease that has to be arrested and interrupted. If it's not, it is likely to continue.

If you're a teenager who is an underage drinker, you need to get help immediately. If you wait too long, eventually, it may be too late. Underage drinking claims thousands of lives every year. These are teenagers who had their entire lives ahead of them. Unfortunately, they allowed the disease of alcoholism to take them down a deadly path. That doesn't have to be what happens to you.

At Northpoint Recovery, we offer help for underage drinking. We want to provide you with the alcohol treatment you need to recover.

Do you have additional questions about underage drinking, or how to get started with alcohol rehab? If you do, please contact us today.

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Sources: (February 2017). Underage Drinking. Retrieved from: (27, October 2015). Underage Drinking. Retrieved from: (20, October 2016). Underage Drinking. Retrieved from:

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