Alcohol was reported as the drug most used by local youth who completed our recent Youth Access Survey. Let’s look at some frequently asked questions about underage drinking.
Is underage drinking really so dangerous?
Q) My parents gave me my first drink of alcohol. Why shouldn’t I allow my children to drink under my supervision?
A) We know a lot more about the negative effects of underage drinking than we did in the past. Since underage drinking is illegal in Missouri, it also sends a confusing message to your child about obeying the law.
Q) Everybody knows you shouldn’t drink and drive, but are there other negative effects of underage drinking?
A) Yes. Research tells us that youth who begin drinking before the age of 15 are five times as likely to report alcohol dependence or abuse at some point in their lives (1). Additionally, alcohol affects the adolescent brain differently than it affects the adult brain. Drinking during adolescence can seriously harm the developing brain (2).
Q) But don’t people drink more responsibly in Europe where the drinking age is much younger?
A) This is a common myth. The reality is, more European youth report beginning to drink at earlier ages than youth in the United States and more European youth report binge drinking than their US counterparts (3&4)
Q) Would we have more or less problems if the drinking age was lower?
A) Since raising the drinking age to 21 nationally, we have seen alcohol consumption decrease and problems associated with alcohol consumption have also decreased (5).
Q) If we prohibit drinking, won’t that just make it more appealing to youth?
A) Most children respond to clear rules and consequences. Studies have shown that underage youth often choose not to drink to avoid trouble with the police. Also, many children are motivated by parental approval and may choose not to drink if they feel their parents would consider it “very wrong”.
Q) If we encourage youth to wait until they are 21 to drink, won’t that just make them drink more when they turn 21?
A) Research actually shows that when the drinking age is 21, those younger than 21 drink less and continue to drink less through their early twenties. The lower rates of drinking before 21 doesn’t mean there are higher rates of drinking after 21(6). In fact, it’s just the opposite—the amount of drinking is lower (7).
Q) Is hosting an underage drinking party at my house safer for teens?
A) Absolutely not! The effects of underage drinking are just as dangerous at home. There may be important information about some of the youth you don’t know. For instance, your child may have friends with a history of addiction or friends who are currently on medication. Not to mention, hosting an underage drinking party is illegal and could have serious consequences for all involved.
Q) Well, what should I do?
A) Don’t just assume your child isn’t drinking or that they know the facts about alcohol. Alcohol is the most abused drug by youth both nationally and locally. Educate yourself on the effects and potential consequences of adolescent drinking and then talk honestly about the issue with the youth in your life. Begin talking to children early and talk to them often. For more ideas on how to talk to youth about alcohol, visit these websites: