#10 “At least alcohol is safer than other drugs.”
REALITY CHECK: Alcohol kills 6.5 times more youth than all other illegal drugs combined.
#9 “If we just educate kids about the dangers, they won’t drink.”
REALITY CHECK: Scare tactics don’t work, at least not for most people. That’s because we all have a natural tendency
to think, “That won’t happen to me.”
Research suggests that using scare tactics can actually do more harm than good, because they can unintentionally
normalize or glamorize the risky behavior.
Well-designed and research-based education programs are a solid foundation for prevention efforts but are not enough on
#8 “Kids are going to drink anyway – It’s a rite of passage.”
REALITY CHECK: Contrary to popular belief, most kids aren’t out drinking every weekend.
Anonymous student surveys show that the majority of teens—including 60% of 10th graders and 51% of 12th graders –
have not consumed alcohol during the past 30 days.
Research shows that misperceptions that “everybody’s doing it” can actually make young people more likely to drink
However, those who are current drinkers tend to drink heavily and frequently, making them seem more visible than the
#7 “If we just give kids more things to do, they won’t drink.”
REALITY CHECK: Providing youth with positive & fun activities can be an important part of a community’s strategy to
prevent underage drinking – but it’s not a cure-all.
Research shows that positive involvement in community serves as a strong protective factor against substance abuse.
But this does not necessarily mean “having more stuff to do.”
Data shows that kids in urban areas drink just as much as kids in rural areas. Even in the most remote and isolated
communities, there are many kids who don’t drink at all.
#6 “My child and I have a good relationship. He/she isn’t drinking, I would know.”
REALITY CHECK: Survey results show that parents vastly underestimate the likelihood that their child is drinking.
They also tend to overestimate how likely it is they would catch their child for drinking, compared to how likely teens say it
is their parents would catch them
#5 “It’s better for kids to start drinking young, so that they can learn how to handle it.”
REALITY CHECK: The adolescent brain is still developing – especially the part of the brain that deals with decision –
Drinking before the age of 21 places kids at higher risk for academic failure, depression, suicide, and sexual assault.
Young people who begin drinking before age 17 are twice as likely to develop alcohol dependence as those who begin
drinking at age 21. Those who begin by age 15 are more than four times more likely to develop dependence.
#4 “Cracking down on underage drinking will only make kids want to drink more.”
REALITY CHECK: Even though we tend to think of young people as naturally rebellious, research shows that the great
majority of kids respond best to clear rules – both from their parents and society at large:
For example, studies show that underage youth are significantly less likely to drink alcohol when they believe they will be
caught by police.
Youth are even less likely to drink alcohol when they believe their parents think it would be “very wrong” for them to do so.
#3 “If we changed the minimum drinking age back to 18 instead of 21, it would
reduce problems with underage drinking.”
REALITY CHECK: Researchers consider the 21 year-old drinking age to be one of the most successful public safety &
public health policies in United States history.
Since the minimum drinking age was changed to 21 in the 1980’s, deaths from drinking and driving accidents have
decreased by thousands, saving an estimated 20,000 lives.
#2 “In Europe, youth drink more responsibly than in the U.S.”
REALITY CHECK: According to data collected from 15 and 16 year olds in 35 European countries, European kids
actually drink more often, drink more heavily and get drunk more often than American teens.
Only in Turkey are teen drinking rates lower than in the U.S.
#1 “Its okay as long as they don’t drive.”
REALITY CHECK: Only one-third of underage drinking deaths involve auto crashes.
The remaining two-thirds involve alcohol poisoning, homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries such as burns,
drowning, and falls.
Taking away the car keys does nothing to prevent all the other damage that can result from underage drinking. And youth
have pointed out that they see a mixed message when parents are willing to host an underage drinking party as long as
“Underage drinking is Harmless.”
Each year, approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 dies as a result of illegal drinking. This includes about
1,900 deaths from motor vehicle crashes. 1,600 as a result of homicides, 300 from suicide, as well as hundreds from
other injuries such as falls, burns, and drownings.
“My kids don’t drink. And if they did, they would drink moderately.”
According to data from the 2005 Monitoring the Future (MTF) study, an annual survey of U.S. youth, three-fourths of 12th
graders, more than two-thirds of 10th graders, and about two in every five 8th graders have consumed alcohol. And when
youth drink they tend to drink intensively, often consuming four to five drinks at one time, according to the survey.
“My kid will wait to try alcohol until he’s older.”
Research by the National Institutes of Health shows that many adolescents start to drink at very young ages. In 2003, the
average age of first use of alcohol was about 14, compared to about 17 ½ in 1965.
“It’s a phase. My kid will outgrow it and be more sensible once he’s tried it out.”
People who reported starting 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. In fact, new research by the U.S. Department of Health & Human
Services shows that the serious drinking problems (including what is called alcoholism) typically associated with middle
age actually begin to appear much earlier, during young adulthood and even adolescence.
“My kid won’t imitate my behavior.”
An adolescent who expects drinking to be a pleasurable experience is more likely to drink than one who does not. An
important area of alcohol research is focusing on how expectancy influences drinking patterns from childhood through
adolescence and into young adulthood (11-14). Beliefs about alcohol are established very early in life, even before the
child begins elementary school.
“One hangover and my kid will understand the risks of drinking too much.”
Differences between the adult brain and the brain of the maturing adolescent may help to explain why many young
drinkers are able to consume much larger amounts of alcohol than adults before experiencing the negative consequences
of drinking, such as drowsiness, lack of coordination, and withdrawal/hangover effect. At the same time, adolescents
appear to be particularly sensitive to the positive effects of drinking, such as feeling more at ease in social situations, and
young people may drink more than adults because of these positive social experiences.
“Kids are resilient, even if my kid experiments with alcohol now, he’ll be okay later in life.”
Subtle changes in the brain may be difficult to detect but still have a significant impact on long-term thinking and memory
skills. Add to this the fact that adolescent brains are still maturing, and the study of alcohol’s effects becomes even more
complex. Research by the National Institutes of Health has shown that animals fed alcohol during this critical
developmental stage continue to show long-lasting impairment from alcohol as they age. It’s simply not known how
alcohol will affect the long-term memory and learning skills of people who began drinking heavily as adolescents.
“It’s better if I let my kid try alcohol and am supportive of his curiosity. It doesn’t mean I condone it, but I can
monitor that it’s going on.”
Each year, approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking. This includes
about 1,900 deaths from motor vehicle crashes. 1,600 as a result of homicides, 300 from suicide, as well as hundreds
from other injuries such as falls, burns, and drownings.