Drinking and Driving

When young people drink and get into a car, they also tend to make poor decisions that bear on their safety. For example, young people who have been drinking are less likely to wear a safety belt. They are more likely to get in a car with an intoxicated driver: 41 percent of frequent heavy drinkers reported riding with an intoxicated driver, compared with only 14 percent of those who never drank (Hingson and Kenkel, 2004). In alcohol-related traffic crashes, there were three times more deaths among young people who were not wearing their seat belts than among those who were wearing them. In sum, alcohol-related crashes involving underage drinkers are more likely to result in death and serious injury than those involving other drivers. [1]

Health Problems Related to Alcohol

The effects of long-term alcohol use on the brain may be lifelong. Drinking also creates a higher risk for depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Drinking during puberty can also change hormones in the body. This can disrupt growth and puberty. Too much alcohol at one time can cause serious injury or death from alcohol poisoning. This can occur with having as few as 4 drinks within 2 hours. [2]

Neurological Consequences

Alcohol use by adolescents is associated with abnormalities in the volume of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls reasoning and impulse (Medina et al., 2008). In particular, females are vulnerable to the effects of alcohol on this part of the brain. Severe or chronic alcohol use among female adolescents may limit the development of their prefrontal cortex more than it does for males. Low prefrontal cortex development may lead to deficiencies in reasoning and impulsive behavior. Alcohol can activate the pleasure-producing chemistry of the brain and release a pleasure-enhancing chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is released in the brain when an action satisfies a basic need or desire. With repeated alcohol use, the brain’s natural capacity to produce dopamine is reduced. This leads to feelings of depression, anger, boredom, anxiety, and frustration (O’Connell, 2009). [3]

Alcohol Poisonings

Alcohol poisoning can result from drinking any type of alcohol, including beer, wine or liquor. As your stomach digests and absorbs alcohol, the alcohol enters your bloodstream, and your alcohol blood level begins to rise. Your liver breaks down alcohol. But when blood alcohol levels are high, your overwhelmed liver can’t remove the toxins quickly enough.

The extra alcohol in the bloodstream is a depressant. That means it reduces normal function. In this case, it affects the parts of the brain that control vital body functions, such as breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and temperature. As blood alcohol continues to rise, the depressant effect is more substantial. [4]

Risky Behavior and Victimization

Alcohol use among eighth and 10th graders have been found to increase both risky behavior and victimization.16 This is particularly true for eighth-grade students. Here are some sobering statistics about crime, violence, and suicide based on self-reporting from teens who claimed they were heavy drinkers. In this comparison with adolescent non-drinkers these teens were:

  • 16 times more likely to have used an illicit drug in the past month (heavy drinkers); eight times more likely to have used an illicit drug in the past month (light drinkers)

  • Four times more likely to steal something outside the home

  • Four times more likely to report that they had gotten behind the wheel under the influence of drugs

  • Five times more likely to run away from home

  • Five times more likely to say that they had driven under the influence of alcohol in the past year

  • More than seven times more likely to have been arrested and charged with breaking the law

  • Six times as likely to report skipping school

  • Three times more likely to report deliberately trying to hurt or kill themselves

  • Three times more likely to report having gotten into a physical fight

  • Three times as likely to report engaging in destruction of property belonging to others [5]

Linked to Mental Health Problems

  • Teens who use alcohol are at a higher risk for developing mental illnesses such as depression, suicide and psychosis as adults. 5

  • Among 12- to 17-year-olds who were current drinkers, 31 percent exhibited extreme levels of psychological distress, and 39 percent exhibited serious behavioral problems. 6

  • 12- to 16-year-old girls who were current drinkers were four times more likely than their nondrinking peers to suffer depression. 7

  • Suicide attempts among heavy-drinking adolescents were three to four times greater than among nondrinkers. 8

  • Among eighth-grade girls who drink heavily, 37 percent report attempting suicide, compared to the 11 percent of girls who do not drink who report attempting suicide. [6]

Associated with Adult Drinking

Studies show a relationship between underage drinking behaviors and the drinking behaviors of adult relatives, adults in the same household, and adults in the same community and state.

  • There is a relationship between youth and adult drinking, including binge drinking, in states and communities.12-14 A 5% increase in binge drinking among adults in a community is associated with a 12% increase in the chance of underage drinking.13

  • Among adolescents whose peers drink alcohol, those whose parents binge drink are more likely to drink alcohol than those whose parents do not. [7]

[1] National Academy of Sciences Editorial Staff. "Consequences of Under Age Drinking." NCBI, 25 August 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK37591/

[2] Vorvick, Linda J. MD. "Risks of Under Age Drinking." U.S. National Library of Medicine, 25 August 2021, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000528.htm

[3] Hanes, Melodee. "Effects and Consequences of Under Age Drinking." U.S. Department of Justice, 25 August 2021, https://ojjdp.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh176/files/pubs/237145.pdf

[4] Cleveland Clinic Editorial Staff. "Alcohol Poisoning." Cleveland Clinic, 25 August 2021, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16640-alcohol-poisoning

[5] T., Buddy. "Underage Drinking Risk Factors and Consequences." Very Well Mind, 25 August 2021, https://www.verywellmind.com/underage-drinking-risk-factors-and-consequences-69483

[6] Talk it Out Editorial Staff. "For Tweens, Alcohols is Already a Fact of Life." Talk it Out, 25 August 2021, https://www.talkitoutnc.org/underage-drinking-facts/

[7] CDC Editorial Staff. "Underage Drinking." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 August 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm