Published April 8, 2015
Today, Eddy stole a beer from his father’s refrigerator and drank it in his room. Sophie went to her friend’s house for a sleepover, waited with her friend until everyone was asleep, and raided the liquor cabinet. Tommy’s older brother bought him and his friend a six-pack of “hard lemonade,” and they drank it in his garage.
What do Eddy, Sophie and Tommy have in common with 4,747 other youth? They each had their first full alcoholic drink today. Every day in the United States, nearly 5,000 youth under the age of 16 have their first full drink of alcohol.
Underage drinking—when an individual below the age of 21 consumes alcohol—continues to be a problem in the U.S. and could have lasting repercussions. Studies show that teens who start drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol problems in their lifetime than those individuals who start drinking at the age of 21 or older.
There are many reasons—here are some of the most common:
Teen drinking poses a wide variety of risks, including:
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The University of Michigan conducts a yearly survey, “Monitoring the Future,” that measures drug, alcohol and tobacco use among students in 8th, 10th and 12th grade.
The numbers from 2014 show a few encouraging signs:
However, other studies offer troubling statistics that show education and intervention is still needed:
Teens drink less frequently than adults, but when they do drink, they are more likely to drink heavily. The average amount of alcohol consumed by a teen per drinking occasion is five drinks, which falls under the category of binge drinking—defined as consuming five or more drinks in a single occasion.
Most recent estimates show that 5 percent of 8th graders, 14 percent of 10th graders, and 22 percent of 12th graders participated in binge drinking over the previous two weeks. In fact, about 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinking.
Although the rates of binge drinking are generally at their lowest levels in many years for 8th and 10th graders, it is still all too common. About one in five high school seniors report binge drinking at least once in the prior two weeks.
Even more troubling is the trend of “extreme binge drinking.” Some 12th-graders report having 10 or more, or even 15 or more, drinks in a row on at least one occasion in the prior two weeks. Drinking at such high levels can lead to serious consequences, including blackouts, alcohol poisoning, liver disease, neurological disorders and even death.