According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) underage drinking creates a wide variety of physical and social risks for children and teens. Parents can have a major influence on their children's decision-making during the pre-teen and teenage years by providing accurate information about the risks and by role modeling healthy behavior.
Physical and Psychological Effects
According to sources at the NIAAA, a young person's brain continues to develop well into young adulthood. Children and teens who drink alcohol may cause long-term delays in this critical neurological development and may even inhibit proper cognitive development. In addition, alcohol can cause lasting damage to the liver and the heart and central nervous system. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry notes that young people who consume alcohol are more likely to experience psychological symptoms of anxiety and depression. They are also at higher risk to engage in unsafe sex practices while intoxicated, which can expose them to sexually transmitted infections.
The NIAAA reports a wide variety of safety issues related to underage drinking. Youth who drink are more likely to be involved in acts of physical violence and they are also more likely to be injured in automobile accidents involving alcohol. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry also notes that youth who consume alcohol have a risk of overdose and the associated physical injuries.
It is illegal for individuals under the age of 21 to purchase or consume alcohol. Young people who choose to drink run the risk of legal action, and the NIAAA and the Centers for Disease Control note that children and teens who drink have a higher rate of problems with the law and incidence of juvenile incarceration. This can be linked to both alcohol related arrests and violence or accidents related to drinking.
Risk of Addiction
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry notes that children and teens who drink have a much higher risk of developing alcoholism as adults. Individuals who begin drinking at a young age are also more likely to experiment with other illicit substances and are at a higher risk for drug addiction.
The NIAAA suggests that parents can take an active role in the prevention of underage drinking by monitoring their children's activities and recognizing the signs of drinking, such as the smell of alcohol or sudden changes in mood or behavior. Youth can learn to avoid peer pressure, but learning assertive communication skills and choosing alternative activities, such as sports, arts, or community service. Young people who are involved in alcohol-free activities that they enjoy are less likely to drink.