Facts About Underage Drinking

Underage Use in Our Area

Alcohol use is very common in our society.   Because it is sold and drank in so many places, we often forget how risky drinking can be for young people.  Parents, please do not underestimate how dangerous alcohol can be for teens.  Alcohol kills more teens than all other illegal drugs combined, and negatively affects lives in dozens of ways, from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder to shattered relationships, and from permanent injury to alcoholism.

Underage drinking is a major problem among Bloomington-Normal youth. According to the 2010 Illinois Youth Survey, in Bloomington-Normal 12th graders are using alcohol at the below rates:

  • 63% have consumed alcohol in the past year (Past year indicates they may have tried it once or twice).
  • 37% report drinking alcohol in the last 30 days (Past 30 days tends to indicate regular use).
  • 25% report binge drinking in the past 2 weeks (Binge drinking presents our greatest concern)

The Illinois Youth Survey also tells us:

  • 33% of 10th and 12th graders in Bloomington-Normal report they would never be caught by their parents if they drank.
  • 78% of Bloomington-Normal high school seniors and 64% of sophomores report it would be easy to get alcohol.

The Facts

The Dangers:

Many alcohol dangers can happen to adults as well as teens, but teens are at increased risk due to:

  • Neurological susceptibility – Physically, brain development isn’t done until the early or mid-twenties making teens more susceptible to alcohol’s effects, including poor decision-making and the potential for substance use disorders. This happens because the first area of the brain impacted by alcohol (the frontal lobe) is also a late-maturing center for reasoning and decision-making. This means teen drinkers are further impairing an area of the brain that is already underdeveloped. Also, the connections being formed in the brain of a teen drinker can become connections for future addictions. This is part of the reason why 90% of addictions have roots in the teen years. Think about that…90%! It takes a teen only six months to develop a full blown addiction. For an adult, it takes years.
  • Rate of use – Teens typically binge drink whenever they drink, unlike most adult drinking patterns.
  • Limited life experience – When under the influence of alcohol (or other psychoactive drugs), making wise decisions becomes harder for anyone.  Add this to the tendency for young people to make more mistakes than they will in later years, and the likelihood of experiencing destructive outcomes becomes substantial when youth drink.

Consequences and Risks:

Alcohol has direct effects on a body, and also can influence:

  • Increased Illicit Drug Use: More than 67% of young people who start drinking before the age of 15 will try an illicit drug. Children who drink alcohol are over 22 times more likely to use marijuana, and 50 times more likely to use cocaine than children who never drink.
  • Sexual activity: Alcohol use by teens is a strong predictor of both sexual activity and unprotected sex. A survey of high school students found that 18 percent of females and 39 percent of males say it is acceptable for a boy to force sex if the girl is high or drunk.
  • Violence: Children who start drinking before age 15 are 12 times more likely to be injured while under the influence of alcohol and 10 times more likely to be in a fight after drinking, compared with those who wait until they are 21 to drink.
  • School: Student substance use precedes, and is a risk factor for, academic problems, such as lower grades, absenteeism and high dropout rates. Alcohol can interfere with a student’s ability to think, making learning and concentration more difficult and ultimately impeding academic performance. In fact, the more a student uses alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, the lower his grade point average is likely to be and the more likely he is to drop out of school.

When young people drink and get into a car, they tend to make poor decisions that impact their safety. Traffic crashes are the number one killer of teens and over one-third of teen traffic deaths are alcohol-related.

*info taken directly from 

Long Term Health Consequences

  • Adolescence is critical to brain development and many recent studies show that the brain is not fully mature until the mid-twenties.  As a result, the adolescent brain is very sensitive to alcohol and drugs, and addiction happens much faster. (Adolescents who drink before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21. An adolescent may become addicted to alcohol in as little as 6-18 months.)
  • Drinking while pregnant (whether or not one is aware of being pregnant) puts one’s “babies at risk for a wide range of physical, cognitive, and behavioral problems” (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism).  These effects, collectively known as “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, are usually lifelong and range from mild to devastating in severity.
  • Youth that drink alcohol in their adolescence have shown elevated liver enzymes, indicating some degree of liver damage.
  • Drinking alcohol during puberty has shown to adversely affect the maturation of the reproductive system in youth.

Learn more about the dangers of alcohol, and all other drugs at DrugFree.Org

The Law:

Illinois has strict laws against underage drinking.  Providing alcohol to minors puts you and the child at risk!

  • It is illegal to purchase alcohol for a minor.  Purchasers could face jail time and fines.
  • It is illegal for anyone under 21 to possess or consume alcohol.  Minors can be fined and subsequent violations are punishable by jail time.
  • It is illegal to host or knowingly allow underage drinking in your home.

Your house is NOT a “safe place” for teens to drink.  Providing alcohol to minors at your house puts the youth, your property and yourself at GREAT risk.   You can be held personally responsible and sued for anything that happens as a result of your giving alcohol, or knowingly allowing, minors to drink on your property.  Many homeowners insurances do not cover damage or injury caused by underage drinking.

Allowing minors to consume alcohol also sends a message that some laws are meant to be broken.  Instead:

  1. It is up to parents to address the issue and communicate the damaging harms that alcohol has on adolescence.
  2. It is up to other adults to support parents by encouraging youth to respect laws against youth alcohol use and by not allowing young people to get alcohol if the adult can prevent that.