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Alcohol is the drug of choice among teenagers. Many teenagers drink to fit in, out of curiosity, or to cure social awkwardness. Many young people are experiencing the consequences of drinking too much, at too early an age. Underage drinking is a national problem in the US.

Many kids begin drinking as early as middle school or even sooner. This is dangerous. Teens who participate in underage drinking are more likely to be the victims of sexual assault or violent crimes. They are more likely to slack on school work and be involved in drinking-related car crashes. Underage drinking also increases the risk that a young person will develop drug or alcohol addiction later in life.

Underage drinking can also cause or exacerbate many health issues. Recent studies suggest that the brain continues to develop through age 25. Underage drinking can affect the brain’s development. Subtle changes in the brain may be difficult to detect but still have a significant impact on long-term thinking and memory skills. Underage drinking can also cause liver damage, especially if the teen is overweight or obese. In addition, drinking alcohol prior to or during puberty may upset the critical hormonal balance necessary for normal development of organs, muscles, and bones.

Each year, approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking.  Most deaths are a result of motor vehicle accidents, with alcohol-related homicides coming in a close second. The rest of the deaths are due to suicide and alcohol-related injuries, like drowning and burns. One-third of all alcohol-related teen deaths and injuries will take place in the months of April, May, and June. These are the months of spring break, prom, and graduation.

Although underage drinking is illegal, people aged 12 to 20 years drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States. More than 90% of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinks. Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women in one sitting. Frequent binge drinkers are more likely to engage in other risky behaviors, like the abuse of illicit drugs, sex with multiple partners, and driving under the influence.

Unfortunately, more than a quarter of parents with teenage children have never had a discussion with them about alcohol or drug use. Parents are urged to be clear, firm and consistent when discouraging their teen from underage drinking. Parents should also assure their teen that they will not be alone in turning down drugs and alcohol.  A recent statewide study of middle and high school kids showed that the majority of youth in Florida think doing drugs, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol is “uncool.” Talking with your children early and often can make a difference. Keep in mind that talking to your child before they start drinking is more effective.

If you or someone you know needs drug or alcohol treatment call us at (877) 711-HOPE (4673) or visit us online at www.palmpartners.com.

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