Any person under the age of 21 in the United States who consumes alcohol is drinking underage, and the current underage drinking statistics are alarming. Research shows 7.1 million Americans aged 12 to 20 admit to drinking. This is concerning because kids who drink before they turn 15 are 6.5 times more likely to experience an alcohol disorder in their lifetime.
There are legal consequences that come with underage drinking if you get caught, including fines, community service, and even jail or probation. We’ll outline more about all of this below.
Defining Underage Drinking
In many parts of the world, it’s legal to drink at age 16 or 18. However, the United States has stricter laws. These laws are put into place to discourage alcohol use for anyone under 21. Anyone under 21 isn’t allowed to:
- Buy or attempt to buy alcoholic beverages
- Consume alcohol
- Drive with even a trace amount of BAC (blood alcohol content); each state differs on the specifics
- Misrepresent their age or possess a fake ID
- Possess alcohol
Adolescents and Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is a popular way for many underage drinkers to consume alcohol. Binge drinking is where you drink a large volume of alcohol in a short time. For males, binge drinking is consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in under two hours. For females, it’s drinking four alcoholic beverages or more in the same time frame.
Binge drinking is extraordinarily risky for anyone that engages in it, especially underage drinkers. It can lead to an alcohol overdose or alcohol poisoning. This is a potentially life-threatening medical emergency. Additionally, excessive binge drinking can take a toll on a person’s relationships, work, school performance, professional goals, and personal life.
Defining a Drink
What classifies as a drink? In the United States, a drink is a beverage that has round 14 grams of pure alcohol. This is equal to:
- 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits with a 40% alcohol content
- 5 ounces of wine with a 12% alcohol content
- 12 ounces of beer with a 5% alcohol content
If you look at any alcoholic beverage, you’ll see the beverage’s “pure” alcohol content by looking at the alcohol by volume (alc/vol) on the container. This amount will vary by brand and beverage type. For standard drink sizes, these measurements are fairly accurate.
However, all served drinks don’t necessarily fall into these standard sizes so it can be difficult to keep track of how much alcohol you’re consuming. An overpoured glass of wine, a large glass of beer, or a mixed drink with a generous amount of liquor could have a much higher alcohol content than the drinker realizes. As many adolescents drink at parties from large containers, they can easily have two or three times the amount that you’d normally find in a standard serving in one cup.
Underage Drinking Signs
Usually, friends, teachers, or family members are among the first to recognize that someone is drinking when underage. Each person can exhibit different signs, and the severity levels can fluctuate. Some signs are easier to identify than others, but you should take all of them seriously when you notice them.
If you notice the signs of underage drinking, don’t wait for the problem to get worse. The more a teenager drinks, the more potential for both physical and psychological harm. Also, there’s more of a risk for long-term problems
These are some of the more common signs of underage drinking:
Academic or Behavioral Problem Development
When someone starts drinking at a young age, they may develop sudden behavioral changes. Mood changes are very common including anger, general aggressiveness, or defensiveness. Sudden mood swings such as going from happy and laughing to angry and upset are good indicators of drinking as well.
Academic issues usually follow. Disrupting class, skipping school, not doing homework, or failing in areas where they once excelled are signs there is a problem. This is easy to spot if your child did very well in school before, but it’s more difficult if your child was already struggling.
Appears to Be Under the Influence
Most alcoholic beverages have a strong and distinct scent. It can seep right through someone’s pores in their skin, or you can smell it on their breath. The more severe the problem is, the stronger the smell.
Because the child doesn’t want anyone to know that they drink, they could try to cover this smell by eating mints or applying large amounts of perfume or body spray. Along with the smell, other common indicators that someone is under the influence of something include slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, difficulty coordinating, and a flushed complexion. These are the biggest red flags to watch for when you think someone is drinking.
Concentration Issues or Memory Loss
When someone binge drinks, memory loss is a common side effect. However, having memory issues doesn’t just happen to people who are long-term alcoholics. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to memory issues because their brain isn’t done developing.
The inability to focus and concentrate is another problem drinking can trigger. When someone drinks, it’s usually fairly easy to distract them. Focusing on a single thing for too long is also next to impossible. This sign is much more noticeable if your child is doing chores in the house or attempting to finish their school work.
Hobby and Activity Interest Loss
It’s not uncommon for many children in middle and high school to develop hobbies they’re passionate about or to participate in extracurricular activities. Drinking can make them less interested and engaged in their activity or hobby.
Instead of focusing on the things that fulfilled them and brought them joy, their focus on getting alcohol. Cravings for it can play a role here. The more severe the drinking problem is, the more intense the cravings will be. If it becomes bad enough, your child can get to the point where they can focus on little else other than finding alcohol and drinking.
Secretive and Switching Groups of Friends
While many teenagers are secretive to a point, if your child stops telling you things or becomes more secretive than they normally are, this is a red flag. Instead of telling you specifics of what they did during the day or where they’re going, they may be very vague and general. When you push a conversation, they’ll tend to get defensive or lash out.
When a person’s circle of friends changes, this could be a sign of alcohol abuse. Many underage drinkers prefer to hang around people who push them to drink more and encourage the habit. Secrecy can come in here too, and your child may work to make sure you never meet these new friends.
Reasons Why Adolescents Drink
As your child starts to make the shift from adolescence to being a young adult, they go through dramatic emotional, physical, and lifestyle shifts. Increasing independence and puberty could have ties to underage drinking. Other reasons why adolescents drink include:
- Expectancies – Popular culture often glorifies drinking. From music that talks about having fun with alcohol and partying, to movies that show people drinking, kids can grow up with the impression that alcohol is a normal part of life, and can even be something that makes them “cool.” Someone who tries alcohol and expects it to be pleasurable might drink more than someone who doesn’t have that expectation.
- Self-Medication – When someone can’t find a healthy outlet to get their unhappiness or frustrations out, they may turn to alcohol. It could make them temporarily forget about their problems or how they feel. Some see it as a release, or it helps them feel happy. Alcohol has relaxing effects so some adolescents use it to cope with their everyday anxiety or stress.
- Boredom – When adolescents have trouble finding things to occupy them or get bored, they start searching for something to give them a thrill. Alcohol gives them something to occupy their time. Drinking is also a way to bond with like-minded people who encourage them to drink more.
- Instant Gratification – Most people want results, and they want them right now. This is instant gratification. Alcohol works very quickly, especially if someone binge drinks. The initial effects of the alcohol usually feel very good, and kids see it as a shortcut to relaxing and being happy.
- Lack of Self-Esteem or Confidence – If someone lacks confidence or self-esteem, alcohol gives them the courage they need to do things they’d never do while sober. You’ll dance even if you’re terrible at it, socialize even if you have anxiety, or kiss that person you’d never have the courage to kiss. If you say or do something outrageous, alcohol is almost a free pass. People will brush it off because there’s alcohol involved.
- Rebellion – At some point or another, almost every teenager or young adult rebels. It’s a way to flaunt their independence, and it gets a rise out of their parents. Alcohol seems like a perfect way to rebel. It’s relatively easy to hide, especially if your kid never did anything wrong before.
- Peer Pressure – Peer pressure is enormous in middle and high school. In order to feel accepted, many adolescents do things they would never normally do. If drinking is “cool,” they’ll do it because their friends are doing it. Also, groups of friends tend to encourage one another to drink more or start drinking. They don’t want to get left out, so they do.
Underage Drinking Health Risks
Whatever reason kick starts a drinking habit, there are a number of health risks that can soon follow. Although severe health problems may not be as common in adolescent drinkers as they are with adults, there are risks. They include:
An adolescent’s brain continues to develop until they’re out of their late teens or into their early 20s. Drinking can lead to subtle changes in the brain that can have a long-term impact on memory and cognitive ability. For example, your child could have problems concentrating or focusing, and this gets much worse when they drink more.
When a child goes through puberty, they experience huge shifts in their hormones, including sex hormone increases. These hormones encourage the body to produce growth factors and other hormones that regulate various systems. These hormones are also essential for normal organ development. Drinking during this time can upset the natural progression of growth hormone production, and this can impact your child’s bone, muscle, and organ development.
Liver damage and elevated liver enzymes are common in people who drink. If your child is obese or overweight, their liver enzyme levels can go up with only a moderate amount of alcohol. Binge drinking can send these enzyme levels skyrocketing. In turn, this interferes with how well the liver works to rid the body of toxins and waste.
Underage Drinking Consequences
Drinking while underage can come with dozens of short-term and long-term consequences. Unfortunately, most young people live in the here and now, and it never crosses their minds to worry about their drinking pattern consequences until it’s far too late. To make it worse, some consequences may go dormant for years before they resurface. Any underage drinker is likely to experience at least one of the following:
- Abuse of other substances
- Health concerns
- High risk of suicide attempts
- Legal trouble – DUI, arrest, fines, community service, license loss or suspension
- Physical or sexual assault
- Problems in school
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Social issues
- Unwanted or unplanned pregnancy
There are more long-term effects associated with underage drinking. The severity of the long-term effects usually depends on how much the adolescent drank and for how long. It can lead to respiratory infections, nerve damage, memory issues, liver disease or failure, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
To make it worse, a lot of these conditions don’t get better with time. Instead, they start to get worse. When a major organ or system in your body starts to fail, it can ripple out into other areas of your health.
Contact Schill Law Group for More Underage Drinking Statistics Today
Do you want to know more about underage drinking? Maybe your child is drinking alcoholic beverages and you need help with legal issues because of it. If so, we can help. You can get in touch today to set up your consultation.