Parent Power

the power to prevent underage alcohol use

The Facts

The sobering truth about underage drinking

"The brain goes through dynamic change during adolescence [ages 12-21] and alcohol can seriously damage long- and short-term growth processes." (American Medical Association Fact Sheet, 2003)

New imaging machines, such as MRIs, PET, and SPECT scans, have given scientists exciting views into the development of the human brain. While we once thought the brain was fully developed at birth, now we know that the brain continues to develop until the mid-twenties. New scientific research has also shown that alcohol affects a teen's still-developing brain differently than an adult brain and can harm brain development. Alcohol slows down brain activity; and the negative affect of alcohol lasts far longer in a teen brain than in an adult (up to two weeks). If a teen uses alcohol before his or her brain is fully developed, it can keep the good judgment and impulse-control part of the brain from properly developing or "wiring." It can also damage the memory and learning areas of the brain; and it greatly increases the risk of alcohol addiction. Underage drinking also increases the risk of mental illness, and contributes to other anti-social behavior. More teens die as a result of alcohol use than all other illegal drugs combined (Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, 2002). As a result of this new research, the American Medical Association issued the following statement to the right.

Surgeon General issues a national "Call to Action"

Surgeon General

In response to a growing national concern over the new teen alcohol-brain-damage research, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a Call to Action in early 2007 declaring: "I have issued this 'Surgeon General's Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking' to focus national attention, disturbing research which indicates that the developing adolescent brain may be particularly susceptible to long-term negative consequences from alcohol use."

"Recent studies show that alcohol consumption has the potential to trigger long-term biological changes that may have detrimental effects on the developing adolescent brain, including neuro-cognitive impairment...Adolescent alcohol use is not an acceptable rite of passage but a serious threat to adolescent development and health."

Drinking is a problem in Montana, not a rite of passage.

Alcohol use by persons under 21 is a major public health problem. Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States, more than tobacco and illicit drugs. Although drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal, people aged 12 to 20 years drink almost 20 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States. Over 90 percent of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinking.

The 2015 Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, during the past month:

  • 1 out of 3 drink some amount of alcohol
  • 1 out of 5 binge drink
  • 1 out of 5 had their first alcohol drink before age 13
  • 1 out 12 drove after drinking alcohol, and
  • 1 out of 4 rode with a driver who had been drinking.

In Montana as shown by the 2014 Montana Prevention Needs Assessment Data, that a period of over one and a half years separates the age of first sip of alcohol, with the first sip occurring at 13.18 years, and the first regular use of alcohol at 14.78 years.

This is alarming with many Montana youth regularly using alcohol with binge drinking a common activity by the 10th grade. Most parents, however, are unaware of their child's alcohol use. They think, "Not my kid." In a national survey, 31 percent of kids who said they had been drunk in the past year had parents who believed their children were non-drinkers. According to the youth surveyed in 2014, 42.7% of the students indicated that their parents have not had a discussion with their students about the dangers of any substances. Parents may shy away from talking to their kids about using alcohol because they may feel uncomfortable or lack resources to have an indepth and ongoing conversation with their youth. To add to the problem, Montana parents peak at talking to their children about not drinking at the 10th grade level, which is two years too late. It is important to set rules early about not drinking alcohol--before age eight is ideal. Parents then need to monitor children to make sure those rules are kept.

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