Widespread Underage Drinking
While the number of teens who drink has been going down over the past few years, there are still millions of underage drinkers nationwide.
According to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there were an estimated 10 million underage drinkers in 2010.
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Health and Societal Impact of Underage Drinking
Researchers suggest that teens are more likely than adults to abuse alcohol because of the way the human brain develops. During adolescence, the teenage brain’s pleasure centers mature quicker than the part of the brain responsible for sound decision-making.
Teens are particularly vulnerable to binge drinking because their impulse control has not yet fully matured.
Many teens do not have the mental capacity to fully understand the consequences of drinking or even be aware of them. Teens can face immediate negative consequences, such as brain damage and delayed puberty. Indirect health issues, such as car crashes and sexual assaults, are also common problems from drinking.
Underage drinking affects not only the drinker but society in general. This is because intoxicated teens can make impulsive decisions regarding driving under the influence and causing fights, acts that get people hurt or even killed.
Some concerns include:
Researchers believe that heavy drinking in adolescence can impair brain function later in life. Memory, coordination and motor skills may be affected.
Alcohol is a big factor in fatal accidents, affecting both passengers and drivers. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens. About a quarter of those crashes involve a driver who is drinking underage.
Assaults and sexual activity
Teenagers who drink heavily are more likely to be involved in sexual assaults and physical fights. Additionally, teens who drink are less likely to use protection during sexual activity. This can lead to unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Gender Differences in Teen Drinking
Although all teenagers face similar struggles with drinking, girls and boys have different triggers and potential consequences. In general, girls are less likely to binge drink or be charged with alcohol-related offenses than boys are.
The reasons teens drink heavily are different for boys and girls as well. Girls are more likely to say that they drink to escape problems or to cope with frustrations or anger. Girls are also more likely to drink because of family problems than because of peer pressure.
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Risk Factors of Young Drinkers
People who start drinking at a young age are more likely to develop a dependence on alcohol later in life. No one is immune to developing a problem, but some factors may increase the likelihood of abuse, including:
Teens with parents or siblings that have a drinking problem are four times more likely to develop a problem of their own.
Teens whose parents, siblings or friends are heavy drinkers are more likely to start drinking earlier and believe that behavior is acceptable.
Young people who believe alcohol makes them more social are more likely to drink heavily in order to fit in.
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