Underage Drinking

By: William Gentes , Project Coordinator

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Alcohol is the most widely misused substance among America’s youth. Consumption of alcohol by anyone under the age of 21, also known as underage drinking, remains a considerable public health challenge. Medical research shows that the developing adolescent brain may be particularly susceptible to long-term negative consequences of alcohol use. In 2014, more than 1.6 million people between the ages of 12 and 20 reported driving under the influence of alcohol in the past year. This accounts for almost 4.4% of people between these ages.

Here in Illinois, according to the 2014 Illinois Youth Survey, roughly 45% of all youth between the ages of 12-17 have tried alcohol at least once in the last year.

Although adolescence brings increased risk for alcohol use, some factors put teens at higher risk for abusing alcohol. These include high levels of impulsiveness, novelty seeking, and aggressive behavior; having conduct or behavior problems; and a tendency not to consider the possible negative consequences of one’s actions.

Underage drinking:

  • Is responsible for more than 4,300 annual deaths among underage youth
  • Contributes to the likelihood of risky sexual behavior, including unwanted, unintended, and unprotected sexual activity, and sex with multiple partners
  • Increases the risk of encountering legal problems, such as being arrested for drunk driving or physically hurting someone while drunk
  • Increases the risk of physical and sexual assault
  • Increases the risk of using and misusing other drugs
  • Increases the risk of changes in brain development that may have life-long effects
  • Is a risk factor for heavy drinking later in life, which can lead to other medical problems (youth who start drinking before age 15 are almost 5 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21)

Throughout the Chicagoland region numerous coalitions like the Lake County Underage Drinking and Drug Prevention Task Force (www.drugfreelakecounty.org) aggressively work on these issues with schools and the community at large.