For tweens, alcohol is already a fact of life.

Exposure to drinking and the pressure to drink aren’t things that suddenly pop up in high school. Some children in North Carolina have their first exposure to alcohol outside the home while they’re still in elementary school; for most, it’s common to hear about incidents involving alcohol in their middle-school years.

Underage drinking is an issue that cuts across all boundaries, and has an impact on every group and in every corner of North Carolina. It’s a rural, urban and suburban problem. A white, black and Hispanic problem. A Democratic, Republican and Independent problem. A rich, poor and middle class problem. It’s our problem, and it’s up to all of us to solve it.


  • Nearly two-thirds of middle school– and high school–aged youth know people around their age who have tried alcohol. 22
  • The average age that most youths try alcohol for the first time is just 14. 23
  • Thirty-eight percent of eighth graders have had alcohol at least once. 24
  • About 10 percent of 12-year-olds say they have tried alcohol. By age 15, that number jumps to 50 percent. 25

All of which means that as parents, we can’t wait until high school to have real talks with our kids. We have to start much earlier, so they’ll be fully prepared for what they’re going to face.

Kids in North Carolina know there’s a problem. What about their parents?

If the people who are seeing the reality of underage drinking say there’s a problem, shouldn’t we believe them?


The good news is that our children can see what’s going on around them, and they’re not happy about it. The vast majority of North Carolina’s youth — 94% — say underage drinking is a problem. 26
More than half of them think it’s a serious problem. 27

The bad news? Less than half of North Carolina parents share that view. 28

Maybe if everyone understood the devastating ramifications of underage drinking, we’d take it more seriously.

The impacts of underage drinking are enormous.

 

  • More teens die as a result of alcohol use than all other illicit drugs combined. 1
  • More than one-third of teen traffic deaths are alcohol-related. Even nondrinking teens are at risk if they get into a car with an alcohol-impaired driver. 2
  • In 2012, underage drinking led to 31 murders. 3
  • In North Carolina, one person dies every week as a result of underage drinking. 4

 

  • Alcohol addiction often leads to drug addiction. 5
  • 67 percent of teens who drink before the age of 15 will go on to use illegal drugs. 6
  • Underage drinkers are 22 times more likely to use marijuana, and 50 times more likely to use cocaine. 7
  • Alcohol use among children is strongly correlated with violence, poor academic performance, promiscuity, arrest and many other dangers. 8
  • In 2012, underage drinking led to 31 murders; 15,600 violent crimes such as rape, robbery and assault; and 31,600 property crimes including burglary and car theft. 9
  • Alcohol use by teens is one of the strongest predictors of teen injury, fighting, academic problems, truancy, unprotected sexual activity, unwanted sexual advances, illegal activity and other illicit drug use. 10

“Alcohol remains the number one date rape drug in our area and the vast majority of physical and sexual assaults on college campuses across the country involve cases where the defendant, victim, or both were impaired at the time of the offense.”
-Benjamin R. David, District Attorney, New Hanover and Pender Counties

 

  • Teens who use alcohol are at a higher risk for developing mental illnesses such as depression, suicide and psychosis as adults. 11
  • Among 12- to 17-year-olds who were current drinkers, 31 percent exhibited extreme levels of psychological distress, and 39 percent exhibited serious behavioral problems. 12
  • 12- to 16-year-old girls who were current drinkers were four times more likely than their nondrinking peers to suffer depression. 13
  • Suicide attempts among heavy-drinking adolescents were three to four times greater than among nondrinkers. 14
  • Among eighth-grade girls who drink heavily, 37 percent report attempting suicide, compared to the 11 percent of girls who do not drink who report attempting suicide. 15

 

  • 5.7 percent of 7th-graders and 12.4 percent of 8th-graders reported binge drinking (5+ drinks per occasion) in the past 30 days. 16
  • 1 in 6 teens binge drinks; yet only 1 in 100 parents believe his or her teen binge drinks. 17
  • Adults who started drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to abuse alcohol than adults who didn’t drink until they were 21. 18
  • Younger teens and pre-teens who binge drink risk alcohol abuse and addiction later in life, as well as prolonged depression. 19

Parents are not exempt from the dangers and consequences of underage drinking – they can be charged with a variety of crimes for condoning or assisting their kids in drinking underage.

A Raleigh couple was arrested after a hosting a wedding party at their home, when a friend of their son was killed in an automobile accident after consuming alcohol at their event. 20

And it’s not just about drunk driving. In Transylvania County, NC, a mother was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter after her son’s friend died of alcohol poisoning in her basement. 21

Taking away the car keys alone won’t keep parents out of trouble. Underage drinking is harmful in any situation. Even if you think you are being the “smart” or “cool” parent, letting your kids or their friends drink underage can lead to tragic consequences for everyone. Beyond the moral implications, it is parents’ legal responsibility to prevent underage drinking.

“We will continue to vigorously enforce the laws related to underage drinking, both to hold adults who supply alcohol to our children accountable, and to ensure that our young people have teachable moments when they run afoul of the law.”
-Benjamin R. David, District Attorney, New Hanover and Pender Counties

It can leave permanent scars on growing brains.

In December 2015, Governor Pat McCrory issued a request to North Carolina-based researchers for a report on alcohol and the adolescent brain, including their own research and supporting sources from respected researchers in North Carolina and throughout the country.

The report, “Alcohol & The Adolescent Brain: Immediate Impairment, Long-Term Consequences,” details the unique characteristics of the developing adolescent brain, and how alcohol affects the adolescent brain very differently than it does a fully developed adult brain.

Find out more on the Understanding The Brain page.

The Bottom Line: Teens aren’t prepared to deal with the risks of alcohol on their own.

The brain areas that encourage impulsivity and risk-taking develop early in a teen — but areas that improve self-control and inhibit impulsive behavior don’t develop until the very late teens or early 20s.

Adolescent alcohol use is not an acceptable rite of passage, but a serious threat to adolescent development and health.

The Surgeon General's Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking

Which is why teenagers need parental help to stay alcohol-free.

Teen alcohol use is not an inevitable rite of passage. Research shows that addiction begins (and can be prevented) in adolescence: “A child who gets through age 21 without smoking, abusing alcohol or using illegal drugs is virtually certain never to do so.” 29

Find out how you as a parent can make a differencethe difference — in whether or not your child stays alcohol-free.