Cropped photo of young friends sitting in cafe while drinking alcohol. Focus on glasses of beer.

The Problem with Underage Drinking

College of DuPage Nursing Student Ruben Pidu wrote for Healthy Lombard that an often-overlooked health issue in the United States is underage drinking. With underage drinking being encouraged by pop-culture and treated as a social norm, many young individuals unknowingly find themselves facing the harmful effects that drinking has on their development and overall health.

How common is underage drinking?

 According to the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, evidence shows that within the past 30 days, 29% of high school students drank alcohol, 14% have binge-drunk, and 5% of drivers drove after consuming alcohol. It is important to recognize that underage drinking is a common problem in the United States and is responsible for more than 3,500 deaths among individuals under the age of 21 (YRBSS, 2019). According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC, 2013), approximately 119,000 emergency room visits occurred in those aged 12 to 21 years for injuries linked to underage drinking.

How does alcohol affect the underage mind?

 As children transition into adulthood, many significant developmental stages may be altered from the use of alcohol. Studies have shown that learning and academic achievement are at risk when adolescents become dependent on alcohol. A study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (De Bellis, 2000) examined the short-term memory skills of alcohol-dependent and non-dependent individuals from ages 15-16. Youth who were alcohol dependent had a greater difficulty remembering words and simple geometric designs. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (2000) used sophisticated imaging techniques that revealed structural differences in the brains of 17-year-old adolescents who displayed alcohol-induced intellectual and behavioral impairment. The study confirmed that these individuals had a smaller than average hippocampus, a part of the brain in which the functions involve learning and memory.

What is being done to stop underage drinking?

 The Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003) has worked to develop prevention and intervention strategies that individuals, families, schools, and communities by providing knowledge to change belief systems and social norms to emphasize the consequences of underage drinking. Supporting this organization through donations or volunteering may help them to continue research and alerting the public about this problem by printing pamphlets for the public and sponsoring conferences and workshops.

Recognizing the harmful effects that underage drinking has on a developing individual is the first step that one can take to help others avoid underage drinking. It is important that we take a stand to challenge social norms in order to promote healthy living.References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, October 23). Underage Drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Keshavan, M. S. (2000). Hippocampal volume in adolescent-onset alcohol use disorders. The American journal of psychiatry157(5), 737–744.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Donations to NIAAA. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Underage Drinking: A Major Public Health Challenge — Alcohol Alert No. 59. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

YRBSS. (2020, October 27).



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