SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Every parent wants their children to have hopes and dreams and live their lives to their full potential.
The key to a child's future is a healthy brain, and underage drinking can impact that.
"As we all know, when we're growing up our brains are developing and that continues through adolescence and particularly in adolescence it's kind of a fine tuning of the brain, and that continues, for most people until about the age of 25," says Dr. Stanley Brewer with University of Utah Health Primary Children's Hospital.
The effects of alcohol can be immediate and affects cognition and motivation and can:
- Affect school performance (declining grades can be a sign of substance use)
- Increase irritability and affect relationships
- Affect sports, work, and other activities
Dr. Brewer says alcohol also decreases normal inhibitions and further increases risky behavior including substance use while driving, using other substances, using larger amounts of alcohol, unplanned and unsafe sex and violence.
The younger teens can or do start drinking, Dr. Brewer says, the more risky their use is in adolescence and they tend to be heavier drinkers as adults.
Parents Empowered says research shows alcohol can have long-term effects on developing brains. When kids start drinking before age 15, they're four times more likely to become alcohol dependent.
The earlier the better when it comes to talking to your kids about the harms of underage drinking, experts recommend starting at age nine.
But if your kids are already teenagers, it's not too late. Dr. Brewer says, "Most of the time teenagers have a sense, ya, I probably shouldn't be drinking alcohol. But just lecturing at them doesn't really help. You need to get in align with them, oh you want to go to college, how could alcohol interfere with college? How do we keep alcohol from interfering with college?"
There are resources available for teens who may need treatment for alcohol. Go to dsamh.utah.gov for a list of mental health and substance use disorder treatment services by county.