The danger of teen alcohol abuse is not emphasized in the United States today—but it is a profound problem. If you are worried about alcohol abuse in teens and underage drinking, you are not alone. Indeed, alcohol is the issue for the vast majority of parents that first uncover an underage drinking or drugging problem with their teen. Teenage alcohol abuse is the gateway.
The severity of the problem of teen alcohol abuse is not lost on the government. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) established the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to address the problem. In a recent publication, the NIAAA rightfully raised the alarm about teen alcohol abuse and underage drinking.
The Danger of Underage Drinking
The respected team of researchers stated, “Underage drinking is a serious public health problem in the United States. Alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among America’s youth, and drinking by young people poses enormous health and safety risks.”
Given the combination of health and safety risks, parents need to keep teens and alcohol abuse far apart. When teens drink, dangerous and destructive things tend to happen. Moreover, teens are highly susceptible to binge drinking. In other words, when they get together, teens drink to “get drunk.” Such binge drinking significantly increases and accelerates negative consequences.
Although alcohol poisoning is a real threat to teens, particularly in light of their habitual patterns of binge drinking, the dangers of teen alcohol abuse go well beyond alcohol poisoning. As we all know, drinking alcohol reduces inhibitions and leads to bad choices. With teenagers, the damaging choices often have devastating consequences
Teen Alcohol Abuse = 4300 Teenage Deaths Every Year
Every single year, alcohol plays a significant role in over 4300 teenage deaths. Given the loss of inhibitions, teen drinking often results in incredibly dangerous behavioral patterns that seem crazy in retrospect. For example, drunk teens jump off balconies and break their bones, drag race down Main Street and get busted by the cops, and climb into cars with a stranger and get physically abused and even murdered.
Moreover, teen alcohol abuse invites teen violence. Drunk teens often end up fighting for no apparent reason at all, and they use whatever weapons happen to be available, including guns, knives, and broken bottles.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), underage drinking leads to more than 1,600 homicides each year. Indeed, teen alcohol abuse also opens the door to adult predators and the criminal element. Unfortunately, such poor decisions often have fatal consequences. Perhaps no action proves this more than the all too common combination of underage drinking and teen drunk driving and its harmful effects.
Unlike adults, teens are less capable of knowing when they’ve had too much to drink. Given their lack of maturity and the impairment of judgment brought on by alcoholism in teens, they convince themselves that it’s okay to drive after drinking. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
According to MADD, underage drinking kills more than 1,900 people in fatal car crashes every year. Indeed, drunk driving by teenagers is a national plague.
Thus, as a parent or a loved one of a young person, we want you to know more about teen alcohol abuse and underage drinking. Before illuminating the problem of teen binge drinking, going into the risk factors for teenage alcohol abuse, and then detailing the signs of teen drinking, you need to know the statistics.
Indeed, teen alcohol abuse statistics are downright frightening and extremely tragic.
Teen Alcohol Abuse Statistics
This list of teen alcohol abuse statistics can help inform parental decisions. Without question, the point is to protect your child. Thus, understanding and comprehending the extent of the problem of teen drinking and alcohol abuse in teens is essential.
Knowledge is a powerful tool when it comes to helping parents protect their children.
90% of adults who are alcoholic began drinking before the age of 18
Young people aged 12 to 20 consume 11% of all alcohol consumed nationwide
11 years old
The average American boy has his first drink at age 11 and the average American girl has her first drink at age 13
65% of high school seniors have had a drink in the past calendar year
15% of kids (ages 12 to 17) describe themselves as regular drinkers
1 in 7 teens
1 in 7 teens binge drinks but only 1 in 100 parents believe their teen binge drinks
5.1 million young people reported binge drinking at least once in the past month
3 million young people reported binge drinking on 5 or more days over the past month
Given these statistics, it becomes clear that teen alcohol abuse is a serious gateway to additional problems and substantial threats. Moreover, the teens that are drinking are not just taking a sip here and there. Hence, many teens are doing a lot more than sneaking an occasional beer at a sporting event. They are drinking to get drunk.
Indeed, there is a reason why underage drinking accounts for 11 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the United States. When young people drink, they tend to drink to excess. In a 2015 study, 7.7 million young people (ages 12–20) reported that they drank alcohol beyond “just a few sips” in the past month.
In truth, teen drinking beyond “just a few sips” is a perfect example of teens downplaying the stark reality of the teenage alcohol abuse crisis. When teens say “just a few sips,” what do they really mean? “Just a few sips” often is a smokescreen. Beyond the smoke, teen binge drinking is lurking.
Teen Alcohol Abuse Leads to Teen Binge Drinking
Teen binge drinking is one of the most dangerous manifestations of teen alcohol abuse. Hence, teen binge drinking needs to be understood. Like many parents, you might be unaware of the dangers of alcohol abuse in teens and teenage binge drinking patterns. Such denial, however, needs to be replaced with awareness and proactive steps.
In the past, binge drinking meant drinking heavily over several days. Today, however, the term refers to the heavy consumption of alcohol over a short period. According to the NIAAA, the definition of teen binge drinking is 5 or more drinks for males and 4 or more drinks for females on the same occasion within a few hours.
According to the CDC, teens do not sip alcohol. They are gulping it down with binge drinking accounting for ninety percent of the alcohol consumed by high school students.
Why is this the case? The simple truth is that teens binge drink because they want to get drunk. Given the difficulty in obtaining alcohol for teens and finding a place to consume it, binge drinking helps get the job done quickly. Before they go out at night to clubs and parties, teens binge drink so they can be drunk ahead of time. From this perspective, they avoid the risk of not being able to access alcohol later in the night. However, they also open the door to real danger.
Moreover, teen binge drinking leads to other problems in everyday life. From missed school work to serious accidents, teen binge drinking engenders an entire range of negative consequences.
A recent study showed that teen binge drinkers are eight times more likely to:
- Miss classes and be penalized
- Fall behind at school and hurt their GPA
- Be injured in an avoidable accident
- Damage property by being careless
When it comes to teen alcohol abuse, teen binge drinking arguably is a dangerous behavioral manifestation.
The Danger of Teen Alcohol Poisoning
Teen alcohol poisoning is the most life-threatening consequence of teen binge drinking. When someone drinks too much and gets alcohol poisoning, the involuntary reflexes of the body are affected. As a result, breathing becomes difficult, and the gag reflex can fail to work. The dysfunction of the gag reflex is why so many people with alcohol poisoning end up choking to death on their vomit.
Parents need to understand the grim consequences of alcohol poisoning and recognize this severe and potentially fatal reaction to an alcohol overdose. By knowing the signs of alcohol poisoning, you can take the actions needed to save your teen’s life.
Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning
- Unconscious or semiconscious state
- Reduced rate of respiration like lapses between breaths of more than eight seconds. Such a reduced rate can lead to a fatal respiratory crisis
- Cold, clammy, pale, or bluish skin
- Sweating out with a strong smell coming from the skin
If your teen develops alcohol poisoning, this is what you should do:
- Never leave them alone to “sleep it off.”
- Call 911 immediately.
- Gently turn the person on his or her left side to prevent them from choking on their vomit. You can use a pillow placed at the small of the back.
- Do not give them hot coffee to sober them up, a popular misconception. Prior to medical help arriving, only water should be given to the teen suffering from alcohol poisoning.
Treatment of alcohol poisoning includes gastric lavage, or “pumping the stomach”, if there is still alcohol in the person’s stomach. Doctors perform this by inserting a tube into the stomach via the mouth or nose, so that small amounts of warm water can be passed into the stomach and then removed. This is to remove all contents of the stomach and is continued until that is accomplished.
In the past, the threat of alcohol poisoning due to binge drinking was believed to be a greater threat to teenage boys as opposed to teenage girls. Now, the opposite is becoming true according to a recent study that was reported in Psychology Today. Indeed, binge drinking has become common among teenage girls.
Here is the breakdown of girls by grade level who admitted to binge drinking:
- 45% of 9th graders
- 50% of 10th graders
- 58% of 11th graders
- 62% of 12th graders
Overall, teen girls face particular challenges when they fall under the influence of teen alcohol abuse and start drinking on a regular basis. Among heavy teenage drinkers, girls are more likely to say that they drink to escape problems or to cope with frustration. Hence, girls use alcohol to escape family problems and deal with peer pressure.
However, many teen girls do not realize the health dangers of teen alcohol abuse. For example, teen drinking can delay physical maturity in girls, leading to endocrine disorders during puberty. Indeed, teen alcohol abuse can result in permanent damage.
Rather than getting wiser as they get older, teenagers seem to become more reckless. They also have easier access to alcohol. Beyond the danger of alcohol poisoning, young girls that binge drink also are vulnerable to date rape and sexual exploitation. Thus, teen alcohol abuse impairs judgment, leading to young people saying and doing things that they will later regret.
The question is, why do teens continue to drink despite the obvious negative consequences? What motivates a teen to drink? If you ask them about teen alcohol abuse and teen binge drinking, what would most teenagers say?
Reasons Why Teens Abuse Alcohol
If you ask teens why they abuse alcohol and continue to drink despite it being against the law with a bevy of negative consequences, they’ll give you an array of reasons. Although none of these reasons justify the behavior of teenage alcohol abuse, it’s good for a parent to understand how the teen brain works. Hence, such excuses reveal the thought patterns that lead directly to teen alcohol abuse.
Ask a teen why they drink, and they’ll say:
- What’s the big deal? My parents drink every night at dinner.
- It’s what the popular kids do. If I don’t drink, I won’t have any friends.
- I like how it makes me feel because it allows me to escape my feelings.
- When I drink, I am the life of the party. Plus, I can talk to girls.
- Everything is so boring. Drinking is fun and makes life fun.
- It’s better than doing drugs. Plus, it’s a lot safer.
- James Bond drinks Martinis. They drink a lot in Game of Thrones.
- I think drinking games are cool. I watch them all the time on YouTube.
However, teens are not always so forthcoming. Since they know they’re not allowed to drink, teen alcohol abuse tends to be wrapped in a thick layer of secrecy.
As a result, you also need to know the warning signs of underage drinking. As a parent, by knowing what behaviors raise a red flag, your awareness of teen drinking will increase.
The Warning Signs of Teen Alcohol Abuse
If you find alcohol hidden in your teenager’s room or you smell alcohol on their breath, clearly there is a problem. However, not all teen drinking warning signs are so obvious.
Here are other potential warning signs of teen alcohol abuse and underage drinking. Although these warning signs also can indicate other problems like teen drug abuse and mental health challenges, they often are indicators of teen alcohol abuse as well:
- Sudden changes in mood, including anger and irritability
- A drop in academic performance and behavioral problems at school
- New groups of friends and acquaintances that seem questionable
- Low energy level and a loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- A lack of self-care regarding cleanliness and appearance
- Problems concentrating, loss of memory or difficulties remembering
- Unexplained slurred speech and coordination problems
As a parent, if you suspect that your teenager is drinking, proactive steps are needed. However, before such steps are taken, early preventative measures can help a teen alcohol abuse problem from occurring in the first place.
Parents and Teen Alcohol Abuse
In advance of a teen drinking problem, a parent needs to set rules about alcohol use, making it clear that underage drinking will not be accepted in their home. By consistently enforcing those rules, a parent can deter the likelihood of teen alcohol abuse. If you have alcohol in your house, do not leave it out in the open. Rather, keep it locked up or take consistent inventory, knowing how much is in each bottle or container.
Most importantly, make sure your teen knows that the alcohol in your home is off limits. There are no exceptions to this rule. It needs to be a clear and defined absolute.
Researchers also have discovered that instituting family rituals that range from established daily routines to celebrating holidays together can make a difference. Such consistency can help steer teenagers away from underage drinking temptations.
If you suspect underage drinking, talking to teenagers openly and honestly about alcohol is essential. Did you know that adolescents tend to be nervous and confused when they face their first opportunities to try alcohol? In many cases, they give in to peer pressure because they don’t know what to do.
Let your teenager know that he or she can talk to you about anything without being judged. As opposed to lecturing, be supportive and loving in this context. You don’t have to condone your teen’s behavior in order to refrain from judging them. Accepting that what is happening is taking place and taking steps to change it is the part of the situation that you can control.
By making your home a safe and loving environment, you take away the temptation for teens to abuse alcohol. However, if your teenager is caught drinking, teen rehab might be a pivotal option. You need to investigate the extent of their drinking and how seriously it has affected their lives.
In addition, beyond the microcosm of the family, it’s important for the macrocosm of the community to focus on the prevention of underage drinking to make the overall result more effective.
Teen Alcohol Abuse Community Prevention
To address teen alcohol abuse community prevention, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has helped to start a nonfederal Community Preventive Services Task Force to help prevent teen alcohol abuse, particularly binge drinking. The Community Preventive Services Task Force is an independent, volunteer body of public health and prevention experts.
The task force specifically recommends evidence-based interventions like:
- Offer screening and counseling for teen alcohol abuse
- Raising alcohol taxes so teens cannot afford to buy liquor
- Limit the number of stores in neighborhoods that are allowed to sell alcohol
- Hold alcohol retailers responsible for illegal alcohol sales to minors
- Restrict the days and hours of retail alcohol sales
- Enforce laws against underage drinking and alcohol-impaired driving
- Maintain government controls on alcohol sales (avoiding privatization)
Although the teen alcohol abuse community prevention measures suggested by the Community Preventive Services Task Force most likely would help, any changes are slow to happen at best. Given resistance by local retailers, bar owners, and the liquor industry lobby, unfortunately such changes will not be instituted anytime soon.
As a result, ultimately, it is the job of a parent to stop underage drinking. Teen alcohol abuse is a national problem and needs to become a priority for all of us. If you fear that your teenager has an underage drinking problem, please be proactive. It is for the safety and well-being of your teen, your family, and your community.
The decision to access teen rehab help could be the difference between the future you have always dreamed of for your child and an array of scary, even deadly, teen alcohol abuse consequences. We are here to help you make a choice in favor of protecting those you love and giving yourself peace of mind. We can help.