An estimated 5,000 teens under the age of 21 die each year as a result of underage drinking. Teens who consume alcohol introduce themselves to the risk of severe, life changing health risks. Underage drinking is a factor in nearly half of all homicides, suicides, and motor vehicle crashes for teens (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). Almost 80% of high school students that have tried alcohol are not following the National Minimum Legal Drinking Age, of 21 years old. Underage drinking should be discouraged because there are serious health risks associated with it, it causes thousands of deaths each year, and it is illegal. Underage alcohol use contributes to many health risks associated with the brain. The human brain is continuing to develop until a person is around age 25. Exposing the brain to alcohol during this period may interrupt key processes of brain development, possibly leading to mild cognitive impairment. Mild cognitive impairment is a form of brain damage. This can impair the brain development, causing memory lapses or processing and sending brain impulses slower. In other words, it will lead to long lasting intellectual capabilities. Finally, since the key areas of the brain are still continuing to develop during the teen years, the brain is more sensitive to the toxic effects of alcohol. These health risks associated with the brain will later lead to alcohol dependence (Shannon).
Another health risk associated with underage drinking is alcohol dependence or addiction. The younger someone is when they start drinking, the greater their chance of becoming addicted to alcohol at some point in their life. More than four in ten people who begin drinking before age 15 eventually become an alcoholic. Drinking alcohol as a teen can lead to further escalation of drinking in years to come. People who reported they started to drink before the age of 15 were four times more likely to also report meeting the criteria for alcohol dependence at some point in their lives (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). Similar to alcohol dependence, sexual intercourse and rape may be results of underage drinking.
Sexual intercourse and rape are other health risks that can be caused by underage drinking. Research suggests that alcohol use by the offender, the victim, or both, increases the likelihood of sexual assault by a male acquaintance. Youth who drink not only are more likely to have sexual intercourse, but they are also more likely to become pregnant and contract sexually transmitted diseases. Current teen drinkers are more than twice as likely to have sexual intercourse within the past three months than teens who don’t drink. In one survey, approximately ten percent of female high school students have reported being raped (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). Outcomes of underage drinking may be more severe and lethal. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of deaths for teens 15 to 20 years old. Each year, approximately 1,900 deaths are caused by motor vehicle crashes as a result of underage drinking. The rate of fatal crashes among drivers 16 to 20 years old involved with alcohol is twice the rate for alcohol- involved drivers that are 21 years old and older. Adolescents are already the most inexperienced drivers on the road, and in addition to this, when adolescents consume alcohol, their judgement is impaired and they become more susceptible to crashes. In 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 951 drivers 16 to 20 years old involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes had a blood alcohol concentration over the legal adult limit of 0.08. After motor vehicle crashes, the second leading cause of death for youth between ages 15 and 21 is homicide (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). There are approximately 1,600 deaths each year as a result of homicides caused by underage drinking. The use of alcohol greatly increases the chance that a teen will be involved in a homicide. “About 1,500 (36 percent) of homicides committed in 2000 by someone younger than age 21 involved alcohol” (Nemours Foundation). After motor vehicle crashes and homicides, suicide is the next and third leading cause of deaths for teens between the ages 15 and 20. Alcohol use contributes to the depression and stress that may lead to suicide. There were approximately 300 alcohol-related deaths as a result of suicide in 2000. Concerning drinkers and nondrinkers, high school students who drink alcohol are twice as likely to have seriously considered attempting suicide, as compared to nondrinkers. In addition, high school students who binge drink are four times as likely to have considered attempting suicide, as compared to nondrinkers (Century Council). Other than the fact that underage drinking causes serious health risks and deaths, it is also illegal. Underage drinking is against the law. In 1984, the National Minimum Drinking Age was passed by the congress. The law states that the age of 21 is the minimum drinking age. In other words, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to possess alcohol with the intent to consume it. However, there may be a few exceptions to this law, depending on the state in which you reside. The exceptions are: for an established religious purpose; when accompanied by a parent or legal guardian that is 21 years old or older; or for a medical purpose when prescribed or administered by a licensed physician, pharmacist, dentist, nurse, hospital or medical institution (Federal Trade Commission). If the rules aren’t followed under those circumstances, then there are consequences.
When the law prohibiting underage drinking is not followed there are many consequences. In the case of impaired driving, getting arrested and/or getting a driver’s license taken away are two of the consequences given by the police. On the other hand, for those who do not drive yet, they may be kept from getting their drivers license on time. The school may give consequences such as suspension from school, depending on the situation. Getting kicked off of a sports team or suspension from participating in the sport activities may be the punishments given by the school and sports team coaches if the players have signed an agreement and promised to not drink alcohol. In addition to these punishments, other penalties of alcohol use may include losing a job or losing a college scholarship. “A recent alcohol party at a private home that led to 42 Westminster High students being ruled ineligible for extracurricular activities worries authorities and professionals striving to curb underage drinking in Carroll County. Underage drinking is Carroll's most widespread problem” (Farabaugh 1). These consequences are given to prevent teens from drinking before they are permitted. Sadly, this isn’t always enough to curb underage drinking.
Not only a few, but most teens drink before the age of 21. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, more than half, almost 80 percent, of high school students have tried alcohol. In 2003, the average student first used alcohol was at the age of 14; seven years short of the National Minimum Legal Drinking Age. There are nearly one million high school students nationwide that are frequent binge drinkers. Binge drinking is consuming alcohol with the primary intention of becoming intoxicated. The MTF data shows that 11 percent of eighth graders, 22 percent of tenth graders, and 29 percent of 12th graders have engaged in binge drinking within the past two weeks. With this in mind, there are many teens who risk lethal situations because of underage drinking (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).
There is a law for underage drinking that is not followed by more than half of high school students. It is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to possess alcohol with the intent to consume it. Alcohol can increase the chance for any of the top three leading causes of teen deaths (motor vehicle crashes, suicide, and homicide) to happen. The human brain is not done developing until the age of 25. Exposing the brain to alcohol during this period can lead to many health risks. In conclusion, underage drinking isn’t as discouraged as it should be even though it causes many health risks, teens and their peers come across lethal situations as a result of underage drinking, and it is illegal.
Century Council. “Underage Drinking & Teen Drinking Prevention.” The Century Council. Century Council, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2013. . Farabaugh, Mike. "Underage Drinking Worries Authorities." Baltimore Sun 3 Mar. 1999: n. pag. Web. 11 Mar. 2013. .
Federal Trade Commission. “21 Is the Legal Drinking Age.” We Don’t Serve Teens. We Don’t Serve Teens: A National Campaign to Prevent Underage Drinking, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2013. . National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol Alert.” National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism. National Institutes of Health, Jan. 2006. Web. 8 Feb. 2013. . Nemours Foundation. “Alcohol.” Teens Health for Nemours. Nemours Foundation, 2013. Web. 8 Feb. 2013. . Shannon, Joyce Brennfleck. Alcohol Information for Teens. New York: Omnigraphics, 2004. Print. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Underaged Drinking Has Serious Consequences.” SAMHSA. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013. Web. 8 Feb. 2013. .