Illegal alcohol use/abuse among teenagers and pre-teens remains a serious public health problem in the United States. Alcohol is the most widely used substance among teenagers and pre-teens and can cause serious health problems and safety risks. Directly or indirectly, the consequences of underage drinking, which can include aggressive behavior, property damage, injuries, violence, and too often death, is not simply a problem for the underage drinker, their families and those close to them, it is a nationwide concern.
For teenagers and pre-teens, drinking is often a binge-drinking occurrence. While it has been estimated that those between the ages of 12 to 20 only drink approximately 3.5 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States, when they do drink, they drink more. Studies estimate that more than 90 percent of all alcohol consumed by youth is consumed through binge drinking.
The alcoholic beverage most often abused by teenagers is beer, probably because it is widely sold in supermarkets, convenience stores, delis, and other local retail locations, while liquor, in most states, is only sold in liquor stores. The negative consequences of youth drinking are many, including:
- School problems, including higher rates of absences and lower grades
- Social problems, such as fighting and other aggressive behavior
- Legal problems, such as arrest for DWI or physically hurting someone while drunk
- Physical problems, such as hangovers and more susceptibility to illness
- Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity
- Disruption of normal growth or sexual development.
- Physical and sexual violence
- Increased risk of suicide and homicide.
- Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes
- Memory problems
- Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects
- Alcohol poisoning
In general, the risk of youth experiencing these problems is greater for those who binge drink than for those who do not binge drink. Research also indicates that teenage and pre-teen drinking increases the probability of alcohol use disorder and addiction later in life.