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September is Alcohol Awareness Month

Underage Drinking

September is Alcohol Awareness Month. Underage drinking is a serious public health problem in the United States. Alcohol is the most widely used substance among America’s youth and can cause them enormous health and safety risks.

The consequences of underage drinking can affect everyone regardless of age or drinking status. Either directly or indirectly, we all feel the effects of the aggressive behavior, property damage, injuries, violence and deaths that can result from underage drinking. This is not simply a problem for some families; it is a nationwide concern.

  • In 2021, 5.9 million youth ages 12 to 20 reported drinking alcohol beyond “just a few sips” in the past month.
  • Adolescent alcohol use differs by race and ethnicity. For example, at age 14, White, Black and Hispanic youth are equally likely to drink. By age 18, White and Hispanic youth are twice as likely to drink than Black youth.

People ages 12 to 20 drink 3.4% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. Although youth drink less often than adults, when they do drink, they drink more. More than 90% of all alcohol drinks consumed by youth are consumed through binge drinking:

  • In 2021, 3.2 million youth ages 12 to 20 reported binge drinking at least once in the past month.
  • In 2021, approximately 613,000 youth ages 12 to 20 reported binge drinking on 5 or more days over the past month.

Historically, adolescent boys were more likely to drink and binge drink than girls. Now, that relationship has reversed. Alcohol use in recent years has declined more among adolescent boys than among girls, with more adolescent girls reporting alcohol use and binge drinking than boys.

Preventing underage drinking is a complex challenge. Any successful approach must consider many factors, including:

  • Genetics
  • Personality
  • Rate of maturation and development
  • Level of risk
  • Social factors
  • Environmental factors

Parents and teachers can play a meaningful role in shaping youth’s attitudes toward drinking. Parents, in particular, can have either a positive or negative influence.

Parents can help their children avoid alcohol problems by:

  • Talking about the dangers of drinking
  • Drinking responsibly, if they choose to drink
  • Serving as positive role models in general
  • Not making alcohol available
  • Getting to know their children’s friends
  • Having regular conversations about life in general

Screening youth for alcohol use and AUD is very important and may prevent problems down the road. Screening by a primary care provider or other health practitioner (e.g., pediatrician) provides an opportunity to identify problems early and address them before they escalate.

For information on what you should know about underage drinking, visit here.