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Health consequences of underage drinking
  • Underage drinking raises the likelihood of other substance abuse and alcohol addiction. Underage drinkers are 22 times more likely to use marijuana, 50 times more likely to use cocaine, and five times more likely to become alcoholics. (SAMHSA, 2006)
  • The brain’s frontal-lobe development and refinement of neuro-pathways continues until age 16, and the brain matures until mid 20’s . Damage from underage drinking can be irreversible. Even short-term or moderate drinking impairs learning and memory far more in youth than adults. (American Medical Association, 2003)
  • The American Medical Association reports that adolescent drinkers score worse than non-drinkers on vocabulary and memory retrieval.
  • Alcohol consumption during puberty can upset the critical hormonal balance needed for normal development of organs, muscles, bones, and the reproductive system. (National Institute of Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism, Alcohol Alert, 2006)
  • Alcohol tricks the brain's pleasure-reward system by stimulating the production of dopamine. Because teen brains produce an abundance of dopamine (more than adults), younger people can rapidly go from trying alcohol to liking it; craving it, to needing it. This can create a quicker path to alcoholism. (Journal of Substance Abuse, 1997)
  • Because their brains have not fully developed the internal “cut-off” switch which causes adults to fall asleep or pass-out when they consume too much alcohol, youth are at greater risk for alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning can cause difficulty breathing, unconsciousness and death.
Injury and Social Consequences
Underage alcohol use is more likely to kill young people than all illegal drugs combined. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports the following findings related to the harm caused by underage drinking.

Suicide. Alcohol use interacts with conditions such as depression and stress to contribute to suicide, the third leading cause of death among people between the ages of 14 and 25 In one study, 37 percent of eighth grade females who drank heavily reported attempting suicide, compared with 11 percent who did not drink (Source: Windle, M.; Miller–Tutzauer, C.; and Domenico, D. Alcohol use, suicidal behavior, and risky activities among adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence 2(4):317–330, 1992)

Sexual assault. Sexual assault, including rape, occurs most commonly among women in late adolescence and early adulthood, usually within the context of a date. In one survey, approximately 10 percent of female high school students reported having been raped. Research suggests that alcohol use by the offender, the victim, or both, increases the likelihood of sexual assault by a male acquaintance. (Source: Abbey, A. Alcohol–related sexual assault: A common problem among college students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol (Suppl. 14):118–128, 2002.Sen, G. Does alcohol increase the risk of sexual intercourse among adolescents? Evidence from the NLSY97. Journal of Health Economics 21: 1085–1093, 2002)

High–risk sex. Research has associated adolescent alcohol use with high–risk sex (such as having multiple sexual partners and failing to use condoms). The consequences of high–risk sex also are common in this age group, particularly unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. (Source: Grunbaum, J.A.; Kann, L.; Kinchen, S.A.; et al. Youth risk behavior surveillance: United States, 2001. MMWR: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 51(SS0 4): 1–62, 2002.)

Drinking and Driving. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among youth ages 15 to 20. The rate of fatal crashes among alcohol–involved drivers between16 and 20-years-old is more than twice the rate for alcohol–involved drivers 21 and older. (Source: Yi, H.Y.; Williams, G.D.; and Dufour, M.C. Trends in Alcohol–Related Fatal Crashes, United States, 1979–99. Surveillance Report No. 56. Bethesda, MD: NIAAA, 2001.)


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Is supported in whole or part, by federal or state funds received from Region 1 Behavioral Health Authority, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Division of Behavioral Health and Tobacco Free Nebraska Program as a result of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).


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