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Underage drinking: Talking to your teen about alcohol
The time to start talking to your teen about underage drinking is now. Follow these tips to help prevent underage alcohol use.By Mayo Clinic staff
It's easy to underestimate how early underage drinking starts — sometimes even in the preteen years — as well as the amount of alcohol teens drink and the risks involved. Still, underage drinking isn't inevitable. You can encourage your teen to avoid alcohol by talking to him or her about the risks of underage drinking and the importance of making good decisions.
Why teens drink
Teens are particularly vulnerable to alcohol use. The physical changes of puberty might make your teen feel self-conscious and more likely to take risks — such as experiment with alcohol — to fit in or please others. Also, your teen might have trouble understanding that his or her actions can have adverse consequences. Common risk factors for underage drinking include:
- Transitions, such as the move from middle school to high school or getting a driver's license
- Increased stress at home or school
- Family problems, such as conflict or parental alcohol abuse
- A history of behavior problems or mental health conditions
Consequences of underage drinking
Whatever causes a teen to drink, the consequences may be the same. For example, underage drinking can lead to:
- Alcohol-related fatalities. Alcohol-related accidents are a leading cause of teen deaths. Teen drownings, suicides and murders also have been linked with alcohol use.
- Sexual activity. Teens who drink tend to become sexually active earlier and have sex more often than do teens who don't drink. Teens who drink are also more likely to have unprotected sex than are teens who don't drink.
- School problems. Teens who drink tend to have more academic and conduct problems than do teens who don't drink. Also, drinking can lead to temporary or permanent suspension from sports and other extracurricular activities.
- Alcoholism. People who begin drinking as young teens are more likely to develop alcohol dependence than are people who wait until they're adults to drink.
- Being a victim of violent crime. Alcohol-related crimes might include rape, assault and robbery.
In addition, research shows that alcohol use may permanently distort a teen's emotional and intellectual development.Next page
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- Facts about alcohol and adolescent health. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/AboutNIAAA/NIAAASponsoredPrograms/AlcoholAdolescentHealth.htm. Accessed Dec. 21, 2010.
- Make a difference: Talk to your child about alcohol. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/children.pdf. Accessed Dec. 22, 2010.
- Teens: Alcohol and other drugs. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/teens_alcohol_and_other_drugs. Accessed Dec. 22, 2010.
- Bava S, et al. Adolescent brain development and the risk for alcohol and other drug problems. Neuropsychology Review. 2010;20:398.
- Morse RM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Jan. 7, 2011.