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Why is underage drinking bad?

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Posted on March 31, 2011
Tagged in underage drinking

You may be wondering what's the big deal about underage drinking. That's just one of the questions we've been asked. Here are a few more on what's the skinny on underage drinking.

What's the big deal?
A: We may hear it from our kids. We may even ask ourselves the same question. After all, don't we all know someone who drank as a teen with no apparent harm?

But, the fact is, it is a big deal for our kids and community. And, recent studies are showing just how BIG a deal.

Looking beyond the nearly $200 million underage drinking costs Hawai‘i taxpayers in property damage, crime and medical costs, alcohol is implicated in most of the four top causes for teen death (traffic fatalities, drowning, homicide and suicide).

Plus, neurologists have learned just how much alcohol affects the young brain - all the way through a young person's early 20s.

So, what are the facts? What do they mean for my family and community?

I drank as a teen and I turned out just fine.
Thankfully, most teens won't experience the most horrific outcomes of underage drinking. But, hundreds of thousands of teens do pay the ultimate price - their lives.1 And, many, many more suffer through accidents, fights, rapes, pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, flunking school, depression, jail time... the list goes on. Plus, studies now show that the earlier one starts drinking the greater their chances of having serious alcohol problems.2

What are the risks of underage drinking?
A: Just two of the many risks of underage drinking include: A young person who drinks is less likely to learn how to manage and to express feelings that they're uncomfortable with such as embarrassment, anger or shame as well as positive feelings such as celebrating accomplishments or feeling really good about being with a girl or boyfriend. It also affects teens in that, as teens, they are already more likely to engage in impulsive behavior. If a teen is drinking, the chances of their taking part in even riskier behaviors skyrockets because alcohol dulls the controls within our brains and value systems.

Isn't teen drinking normal?
A: The vast majority, almost 70%, of Hawai‘i teens don't drink.3 And, the number one reason they give for not drinking is that they don't want to disappoint their parents/guardians.4

If someone's old enough to join the military, shouldn't they be able to drink?
A: It's been long known that developing brains are much more vulnerable to damage than mature brains. Now, recent studies show that human brain continues to develop through one's early 20s. And, during the teenage years, the brain is much more susceptible than the adult brain to the toxic effects of alcohol, which could lead to significant brain damage.5

There is a bright side, though. While teenage brains are more easily damaged by alcohol, they are also easier to repair. So, if alcohol use is stopped early enough, researchers say the damage may be reversed.

How much does underage drinking cost Hawai‘i each year?
A: Underage drinking in Hawai‘i that resulted in traffic fatalities, violence, pregnancies, crime, burns and drownings cost Hawai‘i taxpayers $188 million according to a federally funded study.

Shouldn't we teach kids to drink responsibly in high school so they don't go crazy in college?
A: If you've made the decision that it's okay for adults to drink, you're right in thinking that you'll need to teach your children how to drink responsibly as adults. However, letting them do adult things before they're ready probably isn't the way to go.

There are many ways to help your kids understand how they can be responsible adults. One of the best ways is to sit down and talk with them. Discuss with them your families' beliefs - why underage drinking is bad and why adults should drink in moderation.

And, remember, you're their most important role model. You definitely influence your child's behavior by demonstrating how a responsible drinker or a non-drinker acts.6

In Europe they're much less uptight about alcohol and their kids learn to drink in moderation with their families.
Some people think that because of the more relaxed attitude toward alcohol, European kids get used to drinking and aren't as prone to excess as American kids. However, the facts don't bear this out. There are hundreds of thousands of teen deaths every year in Europe caused by alcohol. From the United Kingdom to the former Soviet Union, nation after nation is grappling with how to prevent youth binge drinking.

For more information, please visit the Resources section.

1National Household Survey on Drug Abuse
2The Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
3QMark Research, Hawai‘i Statewide Survey on Underage Drinking
4Monitoring the Future Survey and the US Department of Health and Human Services
5Duke University Medical Center, Dr. Aaron White researcher
6Journal of Studies on Alcohol