There may be some truth to the saying “you are who you hang out with.” Researchers have discovered that teens whose best friends drink alcohol are twice as likely to try alcohol themselves. And, if teens get alcohol from friends, they’re more likely to start drinking at a younger age.
It’s a big deal. Studies have shown that a person who drinks alcohol early is more prone to abusing alcohol when he or she gets older.
So, if your friends drink and you don’t want to, what are you supposed to do? Get a whole new set of friends? That’s probably not necessary—but you might have to work a little harder to stay away from alcohol. It can be tough to say no if the people you’re with are all doing something. It’s a good idea to have some strategies for dealing with peer pressure.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- It’s brave to stand up for yourself. Be that guy or girl who doesn’t drink. It might be hard at first, but eventually people will respect you for sticking to your beliefs. You might even start to influence some of your friends to stay away from alcohol too.
- Not everyone is doing it. In fact, according to NIDA’s 2012 Monitoring the Future survey, less than one-third of 10th graders reported using alcohol in the past month.
- It’s okay to make up an excuse. If someone is really hounding you, dodge the issue—you could say that you took medicine that will make you sick if you drink. But ask yourself: If someone isn’t respecting your decisions, then are they really that good a friend?
Tell us: How do you avoid doing something you don’t want to if your friends are doing it?
I'm sure you've heard that abusing alcohol hurts your health. But how many years of drinking do you think it takes to visibly affect your brain? Ten years? Twenty?
It turns out that it doesn't take that long at all—in fact, scientists can already see changes in the brains of teenagers who drink.
In a new research study, Professor Susan Tapert of the University of California at San Diego used an imaging machine called an MRI to scan the brains of teens who binge drink—defined as drinking 4 or 5 (or more) drinks in a couple of hours. Dr. Tapert found that the "white matter" in their brains—the part that transmits signals, like a television cable or a computer USB cord—was abnormal when compared with the white matter of teens who don't binge drink. Transmitting signals is a big part of what the brain does, so affecting the white matter in this way could also affect thinking, learning, and memory.
The really scary part is that these teens weren't alcoholics, and they didn't drink every day. All they did (to be considered "binge drinkers") was drink at least four (for women) or five (for men) drinks in one sitting, at least one time during the previous three months.
How could it be possible for just a few sessions of heavy drinking to affect the white matter of the brain? Well, science has shown that alcohol can poison brain cells and can alter the brain's white matter in adult alcoholics. Dr. Tapert thinks that teenagers' brains are even more susceptible this way. She says, "because the brain is still developing during adolescence, there has been concern that it may be more vulnerable to high doses of alcohol."
Many questions still remain, including how long it takes before these changes occur, and how much they affect the function of the brain. To figure this out, scientists would have to look at the binge drinkers' brains before and after they started drinking. That way, they can tell if the differences might have already been there before the teens started drinking. It's possible that having abnormal white matter in the brain somehow increases the chance of being a binge drinker. In order to answer that question, Dr. Tapert says they need to do longer studies that follow teens' brain growth over time.
The bottom line? If you're a teen, drinking to the point of getting drunk could damage the white matter of your brain—even if you do it only once in a while.
Find out more through the following resources:
- SAMHSA Fact Sheet on Binge Drinking
- NIH Fact Sheet on Underage Drinking (PDF, 305 KB)
- USCD News Release: Binge Drinking May Hamper Information Relay System in Teen Brain
- Dr. Tapert's Study: Altered White Matter Integrity in Adolescent Binge Drinkers
- NIAAA's Rethinking Drinking Web page
An alcohol-free party, that is.
Every April—which is Alcohol Awareness Month—people take a moment to learn about the dangers of abusing alcohol. For those under 21, taking even one drink is illegal—never mind unhealthy.
Still, some teens choose to drink alcohol for a variety of reasons—boredom, curiosity, or just because it seems like “everyone else is doing it.” But the truth is, not all teens are drinking—in fact, over the last 5 years, the rates of alcohol use and binge alcohol use among teens have been on the way down.
What Can You Do?
Celebrate Alcohol Awareness Month by throwing a “booze-free bash” for your friends and classmates. To help get you started, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides a Guide to Safe and Sober Event Planning.
You’ll need a place to have the party—like a parent’s house, a park, or a local YMCA—and you’ll probably need some help getting everything organized, so get your friends, parents, teachers, coaches, and older siblings involved.
Do your part to help keep yourself and your friends safe and alcohol-free.
Facts About Alcohol:
- Alcohol contributes to the three leading causes of death among 12 to 20-year-olds (unintentional injury, murder and suicide).
- Those who start drinking before age 15 are six times more likely to have alcohol problems as adults than those who start drinking at age 21 or older.
Check out these resources about alcohol and the dangers of underage drinking:
Have you ever wondered why you have to be 16 to get your driver’s license or 18 to vote or 21 to legally drink alcohol?
It’s partly because your brain is not ready to take on these responsibilities, since your brain is not fully developed when you’re a teen.
During the teen years, essential parts of the brain are still forming—like the prefrontal cortex, which allows people to weigh the pros and cons of situations instead of acting on impulse. This is one reason why teens are generally more likely to take risks than adults.
For example, with alcohol, teens may be less able to judge when to stop drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that each year, more than 4,600 alcohol-related deaths occur among those less than 21 years old—that is way too many.
Research shows that alcohol and other drugs change the brain’s structure and how it works in the short and long term. In the short term, drugs affect your brain’s judgment and decision-making abilities, while long-term use causes brain changes that can set people up for addiction and other problems. The brains of people who become addicted get altered so that drugs are now their top priority—and they will compulsively seek and use drugs even though doing so brings devastating consequences for their lives and for those who care about them.
Do yourself a favor and use your brain to make smart choices, reach your goals, and achieve your full potential in life.
Did you know that alcohol and drugs play a major role in increasing violence toward a partner in a relationship? February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, designed to raise awareness about this and related issues.
So, how do drugs and alcohol play a role? One study found that, in junior high and high school, teens who drank alcohol before age 13 were more likely to be both victims and abusers when it comes to physical dating violence. Another study found that teenage girls in abusive relationships are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, have eating disorders, engage in unsafe sexual behaviors, and attempt suicide.
Unfortunately, the number of teens who suffer from abuse in relationships is not small: nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced physical, emotional, and sexual violence in a relationship during their adolescent years. Many of the contributing factors are preventable, and NIDA needs your help to spread the word and stop the violence.
What Are the Warning Signs?
Here are some signs that a partner might have abusive tendencies. He or she may:
- Be unable to control his or her anger or frustration.
- Lack social skills.
- Use drugs and/or alcohol.
- Be extremely jealous, insecure, or possessive.
- Constantly put you down.
- Check your personal email or phone without asking permission.
- Isolate you from your loved ones.
Although some of these characteristics might sound common, they are extremely unhealthy. If you or someone you know is in a relationship where one person acts like this, there are places you or your friend can go for help.
What Can I Do To Help?
Creating awareness about dating violence among teens can help prevent more teens from getting physically or emotionally abused in their relationships. For example, you might talk to your guidance counselor about hosting an event at your school. The Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month’s website provides free materials to help get your event started.
Or, try talking to someone in your school’s newspaper office to see if they’d be willing to publish an article about teen dating violence. Anything you do to help create awareness could have a positive impact on someone you know.
How Can I (or Someone I Know) Get Help?
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please seek help. Many organizations are willing to provide a free, safe space, as well as counseling. You can call the 24-hour National Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474 or go to LoveIsRespect.org for live chat support. Help is only a text message away. Text “loveis” to 77054 to begin texting with an advocate who can help you.
Also, check out the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Relationship Violence Toolkit.
The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women offers more detailed information on dating violence.
You’re going to an after-prom party, and your parents ask if the host’s parents will be there. You may say, “yes,” and it may be true, but you also secretly may know that they will allow underage guests to drink alcohol. You think this is okay, because, after all, an adult is there.
Not only is it always illegal for people under age 21 to drink alcohol—no matter where you are or who you got it from—but the adults serving underage people may also be breaking the law.
More than 30 states have passed “social host” laws that punish adults (anyone age 21+) who permit underage drinking on their property. This means that even if the adult who owns the property didn’t supply the alcohol, they can still be liable.
Tell us: What do you think when adults are willing to give underage people alcohol?
Did you know that alcohol is the most commonly used drug by youth—more than all illegal drugs combined? AND that teen alcohol use kills more than 5,000 people each year?
You have the power to change that! MADD created the Power of You(th) program to empower teens like you to influence your peers and younger kids not to drink before age 21, and never to get in the car with someone who’s been drinking. Use your power to take a stand against underage drinking.
The Power of You(th) is about teens making a difference in their communities by sharing how underage drinking is especially risky. There are a lot of ways to get involved:
- Participate in the Power of You(th) Video Contest.* Each year, MADD holds a video contest and asks teens to create a 1-minute or less video telling the story of why underage drinking isn’t cool. This year’s winner got an iPad 2!
Check out the winning video, created by 17-year-old Jason Girouard from Brimfield, Massachusetts:
Be on the lookout in fall 2013 for the next Power of You(th) video contest!
- Download The 411 on Teen Drinking booklet. Learn about underage drinking by downloading The 411 on Teen Drinking, created by MADD and National Presenting Sponsor State Farm. The free booklet tells you how alcohol affects teen brains differently than it does adult brains and how to talk to your parents about alcohol.
- Pledge to stand up against underage drinking. The Power of You(th) pledge is a promise not to drink under age 21 or ride in a car with someone who’s been drinking.
* NIDA is not a sponsor of the MADD Power of You(th) contest, nor is it associated with MADD Power of You(th).
Jan Withers joined MADD in 1992, after her 15-year-old daughter, Alisa Joy, was killed by an underage drinker who chose to drive after consuming numerous alcoholic beverages. Ms. Withers first volunteered by sharing her story and lobbying for tougher legislation—she wanted to make a difference by helping to stop this 100-percent preventable violent crime. Now as MADD’s National President, she speaks to lawmakers across the country about the importance of legislation requiring ignition interlocks (or “in-car breathalyzers”) for all drunk-driving offenders, a key part of MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving. Ms. Withers continues to raise awareness for MADD’s victim support services—even leading a monthly support group—while also expanding the reach of MADD’s underage drinking prevention programs.
You’ve probably heard how deadly it is to drink and drive—or to get in the car with someone else who has been drinking. But the dangers of alcohol go beyond drunk driving. Did you know that of all alcohol-related teen deaths, only about one-third of those are traffic related?
Alcohol poisoning and suicide are also major causes of alcohol-related teen deaths (9% and 15%, respectively), but an even bigger cause may surprise you. A third of teen drinkers who die alcohol-related deaths are victims of homicide.
Why the connection between murder and alcohol? Under the influence, people do lots of things they wouldn’t normally do. That includes acting on emotional impulses like rage, jealousy, or sadness.
And people who have been drinking find themselves in situations they would normally avoid, like an argument with a classmate, boyfriend, or girlfriend. For instance, the FBI estimates that over 1,400 homicides in the U.S. from 2000 to 2010 resulted from a “brawl due to influence of alcohol.”
Alcohol clouds a person’s judgment and decision-making skills. When that happens, it’s often impossible to predict the consequences.
Tell us in comments: Do these stats surprise you? If your parents talked to you about the dangers of drinking and driving, did they also mention the other dangers of alcohol? Share with us your tips to help your fellow teens avoid drinking alcohol!
In June 2010, SBB warned teens about marketing gimmicks surrounding these alcoholic beverages. They’re still on the market, so here’s a refresher for why you should avoid them.
Alcohol companies have tapped into a growing market to introduce underage drinkers to their products, on the basis that kids who acquire a taste for alcoholic drinks early are more likely to get hooked. While it is still illegal for teens to purchase them, “alcopops,” are flavored beer and vodka drinks that contain caffeine, juices, and other flavors. These drinks often sport names like Moonshot, JungleJoose, and Bacardi Breezer Watermelon, to fool you into believing they are harmless flavored drinks.
But Drinker Beware…
Alcopops may contain 4-7% alcohol or more, higher than the average can of beer containing a little over 3% alcohol content. Alcohol is a depressant, and so can make you tired and slow your brain and reaction time. That affects your ability to make decisions and to act or think properly—it also makes you thirsty, so you keep drinking. Now throw in a strong jolt of caffeine, such as you find in typical energy drinks.
While the alcohol in alcopops tends to make you sleepy, the caffeine in them keeps you feeling “up.” Sugar, the major ingredient in many juice drinks and flavorings, also stimulates your brain to give you a short-term energy surge. Now confused from the caffeine, alcohol, and sugar mix, your brain gets tricked in sometimes lethal ways because these drinks don’t taste like alcohol and make you feel less intoxicated than alcohol alone. This leaves you even less aware of how much you’ve consumed and more likely to binge drink.
What’s the Big Deal?
The big deal here is that combining a depressant (alcohol) with stimulants (caffeine and sugar) sends mixed signals to your brain, which can have long-term consequences. So digest the facts before you pop a top: drinking alcohol—including alcopops—can be quite dangerous.