Healthline Connects
Healthline Connects

Wake Up Call for Pediatricians & Parents: Underage Drinking


Kids as young as 10 are now using alcohol as their drug of choice, making them at risk for problem drinking as they develop. Heavy drinking in late adolescence leads to neurological and social problems that continue to plague them the rest of their lives. 11 million kids in the US use alcohol but parents, educators and pediatricians are in a state of denial.

US Surgeon General Michael Levitt reports that by age 15, half of all kids have had a full drink of alcohol, not just a few sips. 18-20 year olds have the highest prevalence of alcohol dependency than any other age group - over 12%. More kids use alcohol than use tobacco or marijuana. 10 % of 9-10 year olds have started drinking. Middle school is the peak time of alcohol initiation.

White kids are the most likely to drink alcohol. Blacks and Asian kids have lower incidence of underage drinking. Surprisingly, the incidence of female drinking is not that much lower than it is for males. Male children indulge in more binge drinking than do females.

Underage drinking contributes to:
  • accidental death from injury - the major cause of mortality in this age group
  • risky sexual behaviors resulting in STD's and pregnancy
  • increased risk of physical and sexual assault
  • academic failure
  • alteration in brain function
  • legal problems
  • heavy drinking later in life
As a parent of a middle school student, I can unfortunately bear witness to these reports. Girls have shown up drunk at school dances and been suspended for bringing vodka to school in water bottles. This weekend a group of them had a birthday party. It was supposed to be held at a pizza restaurant, but the location was mysteriously changed at the last minute to the beach. My kid and I were both suspicious but had a plan. I would take her to the beach but if any alcohol or drugs appeared at the party, she had instructions to go across the street to a well-lit business establishment and call me. She was only there for an hour when a friend's uncle brought beer for kids as young as 12. My kid left and waited for me at the designated spot. My daughter and I, despite arguing a lot or maybe because we argue a lot, have great communication. I know she will get through these years safely and make good choices, as long as we stay close and keep talking.

It's the other kids I worry about. It's not the job of the cops to chase the kids off the beach. It's not the job of teachers to monitor what they pack in their lunches. I can't go into details about the parental indifference and apathy I have witnessed. Middle school is a vulnerable age. Kids are big enough to look like adults but immature enough to still need parental guidance and protection. Hold them close and know what's going on with them, even when they battle against you. They need us to be grown-ups and fight for them.

Thank you aiboo for use of photo drinkgirl.
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