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Teens and Alcohol

Underage drinking is a serious problem in the U.S.  It can be a threat to a teen’s health and development.

Although the legal drinking age in most states is age 21, many young people start drinking several years before, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.  The consequences of underage drinking can be serious says Ron Kanwischer, assistant professor of psychiatry and substance abuse counselor at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.  He explains when many teens begin drinking.

SOUND BITE:  “Well, unfortunately, it’s getting younger and younger.  And it’s a little different for boys than it is for girls.  Boys typically have their first drink at age 11; girls at 13.  And girls are much more influenced by their male friends.   For regular drinking though, the average age is about 12.”

Kanwischer says earlier drinking can cause alcohol problems later in life.  Of those adults who started drinking before age 15, about 40 percent have signs of alcohol dependency.   He explains that drinking and drug use can negatively affect the last stages of a young person’s growth and development.

SOUND BITE:  “. . . with alcohol, the risk there becomes that they may become dependent on it.  So the idea is that the earlier you begin to drink, the greater your risk of having future problems.  There was a study recently looking at 13 year olds who began drinking at about that time.  And 40 percent went on in later life to develop alcohol dependence.” 

Kanswischer encourages families to have open conversations about drinking and the medical and legal consequences of it.  If someone has a drinking problem and is dependent on alcohol, they should talk to their family physician or a substance abuse counselor.

This is Ruth Slottag at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.