Reducing underage drinking critical for parents, teens

In a society that continually promotes alcohol and drug use at every level, the need to provide education on the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse and its effect on children has never been greater.

Education on this critical threat to the health of our community needs to begin as early as possible in people’s lives. By educating children and youth on these issues, they are much more resistant to these dangers and better able to make healthy choices about substance use.

Here are some startling facts:

Alcohol is a primary factor in the four leading causes of death for young people ages 10 to 21

Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States

Young people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21

More than 7 million children live in a household where at least one parent is dependent on or has abused alcohol

More than half of all adults have a family history of alcoholism or problem drinking

100,000 people die each year from alcohol-related causes: drinking and driving crashes, other accidents, falls, fires, alcohol-related homicides and suicides

Alcohol-related problems cost America $224 billion ($746 per person) in lost productivity, absenteeism, healthcare costs, crime and family-related problems

Alcohol and drug use tends to begin in mid-to-late adolescence, and the earlier the age at which someone starts drinking the greater the risk he or she will develop alcohol-related problems later in life. Yet a delay in drinking until the age of 21 greatly reduces the risk of developing alcohol-related problems.

Various factors can contribute to underage drinking, from insecurity to a desire for social acceptance, and while the percentage of teenagers who drink alcohol is slowly declining, numbers are still quite high. Nearly 30 percent of adolescents report drinking by eighth grade, and 54 percent report being drunk at least once by 12th grade.

Parent and caregivers are the most effective force in preventing and reducing adolescent risky behaviors and helping our nation’s youth lead healthier lives. Research shows kids who learn about the dangers of alcohol and drugs at home are up to 50 percent less likely to use these substances than kids who don’t learn about such dangers from their parents.

So, what can parents do to help minimize the likelihood their adolescent will choose to drink and that such drinking, if it does occur, will become problematic?

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services studies have shown that it is important to:

•Talk early and often, in developmentally appropriate ways, with children and teens about your concerns — and theirs- regarding alcohol. Adolescents who know their parents’ opinions about youth drinking are more likely to fall in line with their expectations.

•Establish policies early on, and be consistent in setting expectations and enforcing rules. Adolescents do feel that parents should have a say in decisions about drinking, and they maintain this deference to parental authority as long as they perceive the message to be legitimate.

•Work with other parents to monitor where kids are gathering and what they are doing. Being involved in the lives of adolescents is key to keeping them safe.

Ultimately, there are many influences on whether an adolescent begins to drink alcohol at a young age, including a child’s home life and whether parents have talked with their children about rules for alcohol use.

Whether an adolescent’s peers drink alcohol also influences his or her choice about alcohol use and another powerful influence is the media: movies and television that depict alcohol use, music that includes lyrics about alcohol use, and advertisements for different brands of alcohol.

Reducing underage drinking is critical to securing a healthy future for America’s youth and requires a cooperative effort from parents, schools, community organizations, business leaders, government agencies, the entertainment industry, alcohol manufacturers/retailers and young people themselves.

If you or someone close to you has an alcohol or drug abuse problem seek help. Addiction is a disease that can be successfully managed.

On the Web

Here are some helpful links for more information: National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc. (, Alcoholics Anonymous (, Al-Anon Family Groups, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (, College Drinking: Changing the Culture (, Stop Underage Drinking: Portal of Federal Resources (, Underage Drinking: Talk Early-Talk Often-Get Others Involved (

Dawn Goodman-Martin is a mental health and addictions therapist at Schneck Medical Center’s Center for Mental Health and Wellness.