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Underage Alcohol Use & Binge Drinking Numbers Climb

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

Parents take note:  the incidence of underage alcohol use and binge drinking continues to rise and the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a new policy statement on this topic.
According to the statement, the AAP is recognizing what many parents of teens have already known, underage drinking is an epidemic.   Despite the fact that in the U.S. the legal drinking age is 21, alcohol use and heavy drinking are very common during adolescence.

During my years of practicing I have seen more and more teens engage in underage drinking. Studies are now, not all together surprisingly, confirming that younger alcohol drinkers will be at greater risk for alcohol related problems as an adult.

beerThe 6 member committee on substance abuse stated “data from the National Longitudinal Alcohol and Epidemiologic Study substantiated that the prevalence of both lifetime alcohol dependence and abuse show a striking decrease with increasing age at onset of use.”

Among those who begin drinking alcohol at 12 years or under 40.6% may develop alcohol dependence and 8.3% of those may develop lifetime alcohol abuse.  Compare these statistics to those who abstain from alcohol until 21 years of age who have a 10.6% prevalence of lifetime alcohol dependence, and 4.8% prevalence of lifetime alcohol abuse.

The authors of this policy statement also report that the earlier use of alcohol among teens often leads to greater sexual risk taking (most of my own patients admit to this), academic difficulties, other substance abuse issues and criminal or violent behavior.  Alcohol is also the most frequent contributor to death among teens due to motor vehicle crashes, suicide and homicide.  In other words, nothing good comes from underage drinking.

More recent studies have also shown that alcohol (like marijuana) may have multiple adverse effects on a teens still developing brain.  With the advent of PET scans it is possible to actually see differences in blood flow to areas of the brain after ingesting alcohol (as well as marijuana). Alcohol use in teens leads to the use of fewer strategies to learn new information (never good for any of us) and will reduce memory skills that continue to deteriorate with continued alcohol use.

As the season for prom and graduation is upon us, it is incumbent that parents reiterate that underage drinking is not only illegal but it puts teens at significant risks for long term problems with alcohol dependence and abuse.

That’s your daily dose for today. We’ll chat again tomorrow.

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