If you drink, the first time was probably during youth or young adulthood. So, it’s no surprise that alcohol is the most popular substance among teens and young adults. During Alcohol Awareness Month this April, L.A. CADA would like to talk about the substantial risks that alcohol poses for the health and safety of young people in our lives.
The good news is the number of teens who drink alcohol has dropped over the past few decades. The numbers aren’t in yet, but this may have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic as young people experienced isolation, loneliness, and anxiety. When we consider the consequences of youth alcohol use – driving under the influence, accidents and alcohol poisoning, as well as damage to the developing brain or addiction – it’s essential to stay up to date and take action to protect our youth. Here are some important things to know:
- Young people consume more than 90% of their alcohol by binge drinking
- Binge drinking is 4 or more drinks in two hours for females, and 5 or more for males
- Pre-pandemic, one in three youth ages 12-20 reported drinking in 2019
- Of youth who said they drank, 21% were underage
- 11% of youth 12-20 reported binge drinking in the past 30 days
- 25% of youth have had a drink by the eighth grade
One important reason to understand more about youth alcohol use is to prevent the risk of addiction. Individuals who begin drinking during adolescence have significantly higher odds of developing an alcohol or other substance use disorder (addiction) than those who begin drinking at age 21 or later. Research tells us that the earlier a person starts drinking, the more likely they are to have a problem with drinking later on.
Having a family history of alcohol abuse puts people at approximately four times higher risk of developing an alcohol use disorder themselves. Yet, genetics play less of a role in a person’s decision to use alcohol than environmental factors like peer influence or parents’ attitudes about drinking. Still, genetic vulnerability is important to consider when determining the risk of future addiction.
Thanks to advances in medical technology, now science can tell us that the human brain is not fully developed until early adulthood – usually in the mid- to late-twenties. During adolescence and young adulthood, there is rapid brain development, especially in parts of the brain responsible for decision making and judgment. Exposure to alcohol interferes with this development.
So, what can you do to protect your child, especially in the face of a culture that promotes drinking? Despite what many parents believe and feel, you actually have tremendous influence over whether your children drink. In fact, kids themselves have shared that their parents have the greatest influence over their attitudes
and behaviors around substances. Protective factors include:
- Discussion of drinking with your youth or young adult
- Parents who don’t support “drinking at home” to be safe (kids whose parents let them drink before age 21 are, on average, more likely to drink in riskier ways and experience future alcohol-related problems
- Just like any other health condition that runs in your family, make children aware of family alcohol issues
- Discuss your expectations and rules around drinking with youth and young adults, including clear consequences.
Working together, there’s a lot adults and youth can do to prevent future alcohol problems.