drinking and summer break

The truth about underage drinking in the summer

Summer is a time for teens to experience freedom from school and spend time with friends and family. However, extra free time and lenient rules can also increase underage drinking.

A new survey by Caron Treatment Centers reveals 61 percent identified summer as the season teens are most likely to engage in underage drinking.

The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day, summer vacation for most students, has been called “The 100 Deadliest Days” for teen drivers. Nine of the 10 deadliest days for youth on U.S. highways fall between May and August. One reason is that teens are drinking at younger ages.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 5.8 percent of teens ages 16 and 17, and 15.1 percent of 18 to 20 year olds reported driving under the influence of alcohol in 2010.

In Texas, the average age of first use of alcohol is 13.5, compared to the state average of 16.

Our three youth substance abuse prevention coalitions work to make changes at the environmental level so it makes it harder for those to drink underage, but we still need help from parents.

The Caron survey also found that:

  • Only two-fifths have parents with a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking
  • 41 percent believed it’s best for teenagers to learn to ‘drink responsibly’ in high school rather than waiting until they’re of legal age
  • 29 percent agreed it was fine for high-school students to drink as long as they don’t drive

These statistics show that there a lack of education to parents about the severe dangers of underage drinking.

Research indicates that brain development is still in progress during adolescence, with significant changes continuing into the mid-20s. Immature brain regions place teenagers at elevated risk to the effects of alcohol.

The crucial prefrontal area undergoes the most change during adolescence. Researchers found that adolescent drinking could cause severe changes in this area, which plays an important role in forming adult personality and behavior. Damage from alcohol at this time can be long-term and irreversible.

The hippocampus, involved in learning and memory, suffers the worst alcohol related brain damage in teens. Long-term, heavy drinking causes teens to have a 10 percent smaller hippocampi.

In addition, short-term or moderate drinking impairs learning and memory far more in youths than adults. Frequent drinkers may never be able to catch up in adulthood since alcohol inhibits systems crucial for storing new information.

Another reason to delay the first use of alcohol is that the earlier children drink, the greater the chance of becoming alcohol dependent.

Children who begin drinking at age 13 have a 45 percent chance of becoming alcohol-dependent. A person who starts drinking at the legal age of 21 has only a 7 percent chance of becoming addicted.

Brain development and increased risk of addiction are only two of the negative consequences of underage drinking. Others include death, poor academic performance, increases risk for physical and sexual assault and impaired judgement.

Everyone has a role in preventing underage drinking and it’s imperative that we help inform those around us about the dangers of underage drinking.

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