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Of all the substances used by teens and young adults, alcohol is by far the most common. Though the legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21, according to a 2015 study conducted by The National Institute on Drug Abuse: 58.2% of surveyed American high school seniors had used alcohol within the past year. Teens are starting younger: according to a Harvard publication, the average age an American girl has her first drink is 13; for a boy, it’s 11.
Alcohol is legal for adults, making it an easy substance to obtain, and its use is normalized in society. Young people often see their parents, older siblings, and idols in mainstream media partaking in the substance. But many teens and young adults don’t drink the way those in their 30’s or 40’s do.
Most young people don’t know their bodies or tolerances well and their reasons for drinking are often very different than those of an adult drinker. Instead of having one or two drinks in an evening, more and more young people are binge drinking, or consuming 4-6 drinks in less than two hours. Even small amounts of alcohol can have a large impact on young people, and binge drinking only magnifies the potential harm. As with many substances, the higher the dose and the more frequent the use, the higher the probability of negative outcomes.
Many teens and young adults have been told that drinking is not healthy for them. They have probably heard stories of drunk driving accidents or even know an older alcoholic whose life may be in various stages of chaos.
As with many motivations for substance use, these behaviors are often driven by valid human needs: the need for understanding, identity, or participation. As with many substances, what the user gains, however, is often not worth the cost.
Wondering about the best ways to prevent underage drinking? Though many teens/young adults and parents go through periods of disconnection, the number one factor in preventing alcohol consumption for a young person you love is to build a strong relationship with them, one that includes a discussion about alcohol.
If you think your teen or young adult may be abusing alcohol, or if you are concerned with your own alcohol consumption patterns, seek support. The potential dangers of alcohol addiction for teens and young adults can be incredibly detrimental, and sometimes life threatening. Learn how to discuss the topic with your loved one and honestly assess the situation. Help is available and the sooner you reach out, the better. It’s a risk not worth taking.