Beer, wine, and liquor are the most commonly known alcohol products. All of these contain an intoxicating ingredient called ethyl alcohol, or ethanol. When consuming alcohol it affects the entire body, depressing the central nervous system and impairing behavior, decision-making and physical coordination. Alcohol use is illegal in Colorado for those under age 21, and yet 59 percent of youth under 21 say they have had at least one drink in their lifetime.
We often see alcohol in the media and it is often advertised in ways that make it appear harmless and fun. This kind of marketing appeals to youth and young adults. In advertising some alcoholic beverages, also known as “alcopops” are sold in colorful, single-serve bottles that look like energy drinks, juices, or soft drinks, which can be misleading. There are other alcoholic products such as powdered alcohol that may even be packaged to resemble candy. As a parent or caregiver, it’s important to recognize these products and have a conversation with your children about these differences and the health effects alcohol products can have on a young person who is still developing and growing.
Being aware of how alcohol is portrayed in the media such as people using alcohol on television and in movies are also widespread and a good opportunity to start a conversation, as are branded materials like T-shirts, hats and toys, which can have a significant impact and increase the likelihood of underage drinking.
Because alcohol is seemingly everywhere, many adults may think it is less dangerous than marijuana, prescription medications or other drugs. Some may even allow their children to consume alcohol in certain situations. But the dangers of underage alcohol consumption cannot be overstated. Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance among youths, contributing to the death of over 4,300 young people each year.
What is binge drinking? “Binge drinking” generally refers to drinking five or more standard alcoholic drinks for men and four or more drinks for women, in a span of about two hours. According to the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, 13.8% of high schoolers and 2.8% of middle school students reported binge drinking on one or more occasions during the past 30 days.
However, binge drinking, especially for youth, is drinking a lot of alcohol quickly. If you take into account youth development, including physical size and brain development, binge drinking for youth is actually considered:
- Ages 9–13: About 3 drinks
- Ages 14–15: About 4 drinks
- Ages 16–17: About 5 drinks
- Ages 9–17: About 3 drinks
Did you know that 90% of youth drinking is done by binge drinking? Youth often drink at parties, for drinking games, or just to get drunk. Although this drinking may be infrequent, even one episode of binge drinking can cause harm.
Youth are especially at risk from binge drinking because they are less familiar with the effects of alcohol, may have a smaller body weight than adults and therefore reach the legal limit of intoxication quicker, do not necessarily drink “standard” drinks, and because of several factors associated with brain development (such as the gradual development of the prefrontal cortex, which is like the CEO of the brain).
Alcohol and the Developing Brain
Youth alcohol use isn’t an acceptable “rite of passage”, and it can pose serious risks to young people, whose brains are still developing. The brain undergoes crucial development during adolescence, and can be very sensitive to the effects of alcohol. Research shows that underage alcohol use can negatively impact brain functions including balance, motor coordination, and decision-making. In addition, research shows that the developing brain can be impacted by long-term consequences of alcohol use.
Health Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth, and is responsible for the death of over 4,300 young people each year. Youth alcohol use can contribute to a variety of serious problems including:
- Increased likelihood of risky sexual behavior
- Increased risk of physical and sexual assault
- Increased risk of memory problems
The younger a person starts drinking, the more likely they are to drink heavily as an adult. Youth who start using alcohol before age 15 are nearly five times more likely to abuse alcohol or become addicted to it later in life than those who start at age 21 or older.
Speak Now With Your Kids About Alcohol
Parents, caregivers, and other trusted adults can help reduce youth alcohol use. The 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey found that youth are three times LESS likely to binge drink if a parent feels it’s wrong, and youth who can ask a parent, guardian, or other adult for help are 1.5 times LESS likely to binge drink. Strengthen your knowledge by finding tips for handling difficult situations. Help your child come up with strategies for dealing with peer pressure to drink alcohol before they find themselves in a high pressure situation by having a plan. Have a conversation with your child about alcohol use and let them know that you are there for them no matter what.