Teen Drinking Carries Lifelong Risks

According to a study in the September 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, drinking before the age of 21 increases the likelihood of car crashes and other injuries in adolescents and young adults. This is true even if there are no family histories of alcoholism. There are simple ways to delay your teen’s drinking.

Researchers interviewed over 40,000 middle-aged adults to study the impact of early drinking on unintentional injuries. The questions covered drinking habits, alcohol-related injuries, and family history.

Adults who began drinking before age 14 were 12 times more likely than others to have had an alcohol-related injury in their lifetime or within the past year. They were also three times more likely than others to consume five or more drinks in a week within the last year.

Lead author Ralph Hingson (ScD), professor and chair of socio-behavioral science at Boston University School of Public Health, said that the findings were concerning because teenage drinking and driving has returned up after a decade of decline. He adds that while drinking and driving is dangerous, studies show that people are more likely than ever to speed and to use seat belts.

Hingson, vice president of public policies for Mothers Against Drunk Driving tells WebMD that MADD’s minimum legal drinking age of 21 has helped reduce alcohol-related traffic deaths. Yet, alcohol is responsible for 40% of all traffic fatalities in the United States. This accounts for over 300,000 U.S. deaths per year.

Researchers are looking for other ways to reduce alcohol consumption. Hingson states that efforts to decrease alcohol sales to minors and to educate the community about alcohol addiction are both effective. “School-based programs can be very helpful, especially when they are led by students. But, it is even more effective when they include parent-discussion exercises.”

Hingson offers simple advice for counseling your children about alcohol.

Children under 21 years old should be taught to live a family rule that is based on the “no-use message”.

Explain to teens that alcohol is more dangerous for them if they don’t have any driving experience.

Remind them that they may lose their license under Zero Tolerance laws across all 50 states.

A previous study has shown that the best way to reduce alcohol consumption is to strike while it is still hot. Dennis Donovan PhD, co-author of the study, is a professor of behavioral sciences at University of Washington. He tells WebMD that while most people will cut down on alcohol after an alcohol-related injury occurs, the effect lasts for young adults who receive counseling.

Donovan, the university’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute director, says both parents and their peers play a significant role in influencing teen drinking habits. Here are some tips from Donovan to reduce alcohol abuse in your family.

Role model responsible alcohol use.

Make sure your child is engaged in school.

It’s your job to find out who your child’s friends are.

Teen-age drinking can be reduced by the influence of their peers. This is the basis for MADD’s 2nd National Youth Summit. It will take place in Chevy Chase, MD, beginning Friday. High school students from across the United States will present recommendations to Congress during the summit to help reduce impaired driving and underage drinking.

Century Park Law Group

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Updated 01/24/22