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Early use of alcohol increases risk of addiction and engagement in risky behaviors. But, parents can prevent early alcohol use by talking to their kids, setting clear expectations, and building Developmental Assets.

The choices young people make about how they act, what they do with their time, and who they will become are not made simply by chance. Their decisions are based upon a web of external and internal influences, including the positive influence of Developmental Assets.

Statistics Show Teens are Drinking at Younger Age

Survey results show that teens as young as 12 are beginning to experiment with alcohol. Nationally in 2015, 28.4% of teens aged 12-17 had used alcohol at least once in their lives, but only 9.6% of teens had used alcohol in the past month(1).

According to the 2016 Midland County Youth Study conducted by The Legacy Center(2), our youth are experimenting with alcohol less than the national average, but 16% of teens still reported using alcohol in the 30 days prior to the survey.

Risks of Alcohol Consumption in Teens

Young people who drink are more likely to be the victims of violent crime, to be involved in alcohol-related traffic accidents, and to have depression and anxiety. Other risky behaviors are also linked to early drinking. Young people who start using alcohol before age 21 are more likely to:

  • Be involved in violent behaviors
  • Attempt suicide
  • Engage in unprotected sex or have multiple sex partners
  • Develop alcohol problems in later life

Effects of Early Drinking on the Teen Brain

Alcohol affects the parts of the brain that control:

  • Coordination
  • Memory
  • Emotion
  • Planning
  • Social behavior
  • Thinking

Large amounts of alcohol can also slow down a person’s ability to relay information, triggering depression, agitation, and memory loss. Long-term heavy drinking can also shrink brain mass due to reduction in brain cell size.

Some researchers speculate that teens are more vulnerable to addiction because the pleasure center of the brain matures before the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and executive decision making. In other words, teenagers’ capacity for pleasure reaches adult proportions well before their capacity for sound decision making does.

Because the adolescent brain is still maturing, alcohol can interfere with its growth and development. People who have their first drink at age 14 or younger are six times more likely to develop alcohol problems than those who don’t try alcohol until the legal drinking age.

Building Assets Reduces Risky Behaviors

Data from the 2016 Midland County Youth Study reflects how the assets experienced by young people affect the choices they make regarding risk-taking behaviors like using alcohol and getting drunk.

Talk to Your Kids Early and Often

You are the most influential person in your child’s life. Talk to your children often and set clear boundaries. Build up their assets <hyperlink to asset list>, and give them easy ways to excuse themselves from risky behavior. For more ideas on talking to your teen, visit https://www.samhsa.gov/underage-drinking.

Articles:
Adolescent Brain Development & Alcohol
The Grim Neurology of Teenage Drinking
Why Delaying Onset of Drinking is So Important
Alcohol on the Mind: The Effects of Drinking on the Adolescent Brain
Teen Substance Use: Not Everyone is Doing it

Resources:
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Monitoring the Future
CASAColumbia: Ending Addiction Changes Everything

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013-2015). Study of Drug Use and Health. https://www.drugabuse.gov/national-survey-drug-use-health.
  2. The Legacy Center for Community Success. (2016). Midland County Youth Study. http://tlc4cs.org/midland-county-youth-study/.