|Addressing Underage Drinking
More than 25,000 lives1,2 have been saved in the U.S. thanks to the 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age.10,11
law continues to prevent tragedies—decreasing
crashes by an estimated 16 percent9 and
keeping young people safer from many
without knowing all the facts, people
assert that youth shouldn’t have to
wait until they’re 21 to drink. James
C. Fell, a public health researcher at
the Pacific Institute for Research &
Evaluation, responds to their questions.
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,9 but have more trouble knowing when to stop. Teens naturally overdo it and binge more often than adults.
the legal drinking age of 21 reduces
traffic crashes,4-6 protects young
people’s maturing brains,12,14 and
keeps young people safer
parents teach their teens how to drink
alcohol responsibly by giving them small
they reach 21?
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.3 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
Would lowering the legal drinking age make alcohol less of a big deal, and less attractive to teens?
History says no. When states had lower legal drinking ages in the U.S., the underage drinking problem was worse.3 For example, before the 21 minimum legal drinking age was implemented by all states, underage drunk drivers were involved in over twice as many fatal traffic crashes as today.3
thought Europeans have fewer underage
drinking problems … is it because
their kids drink from an earlier age?
a myth. European countries have worse
problems than America does, as far as
binge drinking and drinking to
intoxication.2 Studies show that Europe
has more underage drunkenness, injury,
rape, and school problems due to
alcohol.1,3 Since alcohol is more
available there, it actually increases
the proportion of kids who drink in
Some people propose a 40-hour alcohol education course for teens that would entitle teens to drink before 21. Is this a good idea?
shows that education alone doesn’t
prevent risky behaviors. For example,
driver education by itself does not
reduce youth car crashes. Beginning
drivers need other restrictions in
place, such as curfews and passenger
limits, to stay safe. In addition, there
are clear health risks associated with
and receive MADD's research-based parent handbook and learn the best way to talk with your teenager about underage drinking.
Know It's Important to Talk to My Teen
About Drugs and Alcohol — But What
Should I Say Exactly?
Recent news about
salts and marijuana soda can leave parents wondering which substances are on their teen's radar.
Soon thoughts may swirl through your mind: Do any of his friends smoke pot? Has he been offered a joint? Do her friends get drunk? Does she?
Of course, the only way to know the answers to these questions is to
come out and
But we know this isn't as easy as it sounds.
Well, one way to start the dialogue with your child is to use
The idea is to use news items, movies, books or TV shows as a springboard to start a conversation about drugs or alcohol. "So, what do you think about what's going on with [insert fictional characters, celebrity, professional athlete, classmates or relative?]" or "Have you ever heard of
Perhaps even one of the
seven beer ads
airing during this Sunday's Super Bowl might help spark a conversation.
It's also important to know what's out there. To help you sound like you know what you're talking about, we've developed a handy
Drug Guide for Parents
(pdf) outlining the 13 most commonly used drugs by teens.
Lastly, when you do talk with your child, ask him to share his experiences and opinions about teens who use. Then tell him how you feel and what you expect from him. Try to be warm but firm.
For example, to
support a no-use
policy, you might say:
- "I'm not trying to ruin your fun. I love you and I want you to stay healthy. The best way to do that is to stay completely away from drugs and alcohol. I need you to promise that you will."
realize there's a lot of temptation
out there. I also know you're a
really smart, strong person. That's
why I expect you to stay clean —
no matter what your friends are
- "There's a lot of new science about teens, drugs and alcohol. It scares me to know how easily you could damage your
brain or get addicted. I want your word that you'll steer clear of all that, and keep me in the loop on the kids you hang out with, too."
Keep in mind that kids who learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use than those who don't get that message at home. So, while your chats may not be without their awkward moments, they're definitely worth it.
What to say if your child asks,
"Have you ever done drugs?" Well here are some thoughts on that
The Partnership at Drugfree.org