• July 2022 •
From Juan Navarro, Executive Director
Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Executive Director’s Message: Underage Drinking
Summer is back; bringing the opportunity to make new memories with beach trips, family barbecues, and vacations, if we’re lucky. One of the memories we don’t want this summer is underage drinking, yet it happens. If alcohol use is illegal for those under 21, how do so many youth obtain it? There are three primary ways:
- They sneak alcohol: 2 out of 3 teens say it’s easy to take alcohol from home without a caregiver noticing.
- They buy alcohol: 25% of 11th grade drinkers admit have bought alcohol from a retailer, like a gas station or grocery, liquor, or convenience store.
- They ask for alcohol: Older friends, siblings, and parents often supply kids with alcohol. In fact, 1 in 4 teens report that they have attended a party where kids drank in front of adults.
It’s important to remember that alcohol affects young people more powerfully than it does adults. Drinking before the brain and body are fully developed (at around age 25) can have dangerous effects:
- Underage drinking can change the way the brain develops and functions.
- Alcohol can shut down new brain cell growth.
- Drinking can damage parts of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and self-control.
- Alcohol can alter a youth’s motor skills.
- High levels of alcohol in the body can shut down parts of the brain that control breathing, heart rate, and body temperature.
- Heavy alcohol use can increase the risk of liver disease and heart disease.
- Heavy alcohol use can increase the risk of seven different cancers later in life.
Where people of color are concerned, cultural norms can impact alcohol use. For example, studies show that 46% of Mexican people binge drink regularly – often called fiesta drinking. Binge drinking is defined as consuming 5 or more drinks on an occasion for men or 4 or more drinks on an occasion for women. Black Americans self-report higher rates of negative consequences related to drinking as compared to European Americans — and this occurs even at lower levels of use.
If you know a teen or young adult who may have problems with alcohol, contact L.A CADA’s Youth and Family Services division at (562) 348-0083.
Watch: Kids and Drinking Don’t Mix
“Hey, everybody has their thing, mine was drinking. Yes, I am underage. My story is that I have things in my past that make me be a nervous person. I have trouble with anxiety. When I drink, those problems go away. It’s better than taking a pill every day. My family was against using drugs, but drinking was ok, especially when the whole family got together. If we could go to work or school ok the next day, drinking was just partying. For me though, I didn’t know when to stop. I had an uncle like that, so I guess it’s kinda in the family. My first DUI when I was 16 and then two years later, too. It was expensive and a pain in the @!X — all those meetings. I just tuned out. But my mom wanted me to go to rehab, and I couldn’t say no. It was a good decision. All the people in my group were young and had my same problems. It was real. It was real life. In treatment, I was able to learn about anxiety and how to deal with it without drinking. I’m in recovery now, one awesome day a time.”
SPOTLIGHT – THE EVIDENCE IS IN:
Theory of Triadic Influence and Underage Drinking
Alcohol use by underage drinkers is a persistent public health problem in the United States – alcohol is the most commonly used drug among adolescents. Research shows a strong relationship between alcohol use among youth and their social, emotional, and behavioral problems. This includes using illegal drugs, fighting, stealing, driving under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs, skipping school, feeling depressed, and deliberately trying to hurt or kill themselves.
According to the theory of triadic influence (TTI), all behaviors have roots in three domains:
- the person’s personal characteristics;
- the person’s current social situation; and
- the person’s cultural environment.
This provides us with practical guidance on developing strategies to prevent adolescent alcohol use. When we understand the interrelatedness of personal, social, and environmental factors in determining behavior, we can better plan prevention efforts. Thus, the focus of prevention approaches has broadened from individual personality characteristics to the social world of the adolescent (family and peers) and to macrolevel environmental factors (community and societal messages, norms, and availability).
Consequently, specific prevention programs have been developed for use in schools, for families, and in the community, such as L.A. CADA’s Drug-Free Communities project.
See Family Prevention in Action: Don’t be a Friend, Be a Parent