Why 21? Addressing Underage Drinking
More than 25,000 lives have been saved in the U.S. thanks to the 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age. This law continues to prevent tragedies, decreasing crashes by an estimated 16 percent and keeping young people safer from many risks. Sometimes, without knowing all the facts, people assert that youth shouldn’t have to wait until they’re 21 to drink.
Why do we make young people wait until 21 to drink alcohol? Many activities have ages of initiation. A person must wait until age 16 to start driving, age 18 to marry without parental consent, age 35 to become president, and so on. The age limit for alcohol is based on research which shows that young people react differently to alcohol. Teens get drunk twice as fast as adults, but have more trouble knowing when to stop. Teens naturally overdo it and binge more often than adults. Enforcing the legal drinking age of 21 reduces traffic crashes, protects young people’s maturing brains, and keeps young people safer overall.
Can’t parents teach their teens how to drink alcohol responsibly by giving them small amounts—under supervision—before they reach 21? Some states permit parents to do this with their own child (rarely, if ever, with someone else’s child), but there’s no evidence that this approach actually works. As matter of fact, there is evidence to contrary. When teens feel they have their parents’ approval to drink, they do it more and more often when they are not with their parents. When parents have concrete, enforced rules about alcohol, young people binge drink less.
Alcohol and the Developing Teen Brain
The human brain continues to grow into a person's early 20s. Drinking alcohol during that time can damage short and long-term brain growth and that damage can be permanent. And it's not just heavy drinking that can impact teens -- teens who drink half as much alcohol as adults can still suffer the same negative effects. Teens are more likely to suffer blackouts, memory loss, and alcohol poisoning from drinking, as well as to cause damage to their ability to remember things in the future. All parts of the growing brain are impacted negatively by alcohol, but the memory function is especially hard hit.
So, what impacts does that have on a teen? Well, adolescent drinkers perform worse in school, are more likely to fall behind and have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence. Also, because the brain (specifically, the regulation of the brain through serotonin, which provides balance and impulse control) becomes used to the use of alcohol, people who begin drinking in their teens are not only at greater risk for developing alcoholism sometime in their lives, they are also at greater risk for developing alcoholism more quickly and at younger ages, especially chronic, relapsing alcoholism.
PARENTS OF TEENS: Steps To Take At Home
Help your son or daughter steer clear of the dangers of underage drinking with these five steps:
Step 1: Think of yourself as a coach - Your role in preventing underage drinking is similar to coaching. You can help your teen by
Step 2: Get busy communicating - Begin a series of conversations with your son or daughter—proactively, before he or she gets caught drinking—about how:
Step 3: Keep track of your teen - You need to know what your teen does after school, at night, and on weekends—and with whom.
Step 4: Show respect and caring - Your teen will respond better when you
Step 5: Be a positive role model - Your teen will be most receptive to your guidance if you lead by example and act responsibly.
For teens, alcohol is an illegal and dangerous drug. That’s why parents need to enforce zero tolerance.
Want to learn more? Check out these Daily conversation starters to use at home