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Alcohol and Children

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Alcohol and Children

]]>Alcohol abuse]]> —among parents or children—has serious, long-lasting effects on children’s mental and physical health and safety. The startling statistics presented here give an idea of the devastating effects of alcohol on children. They also highlight the positive influence that parents can have on their children and their habits.

Alcohol Use Among Children

  • 68% of 8th graders and 85% of 10th graders believe that alcohol is readily available to them for drinking.
  • 40% of 9th grade students reported having consumed alcohol before they were 13.
  • 41% of 9th grade students reported drinking in the past month.
  • More than 20% of 8th graders and 44% of 10th graders have been drunk at least once.
  • Almost 25% of 9th grade students reported binge drinking (having had five or more drinks on one occasion) in the past month.
  • Rates of reported binge drinking differ among racial and ethnic groups among students in 9th-12th grades:
    • 34% of non-Hispanic white students
    • 30% of Hispanic students
    • 11% of African-American students
  • Girls consume alcohol and binge drink at rates almost equal to boys.

The above statistics are especially important in light of these two facts:

  • More than 40% of children who start drinking before the age of 13 will become alcoholics at some point in their lives.
  • If the onset of drinking is delayed until age 21, a child's risk of serious alcohol problems is decreased by 70%.

Family Influences

Parental influences have powerful effects on children's’ drinking habits, both for the good and for the bad.

For the good:

  • Children are less likely to drink when their parents are involved with their lives. They are also less likely to drink when they and their parents report feeling close to each other.
  • Adolescents drink less and have fewer alcohol-related problems when their parents discipline them consistently and set clear expectations.

For the bad:

  • About 25% of children are exposed to family alcoholism some time before the age of 18.
  • Children of alcoholics are significantly more likely to begin drinking during adolescence and to have problems handling alcohol.
  • Any ]]>drinking during pregnancy]]> increases the risk of physical birth defects as well as learning and behavioral problems throughout life.


Peer pressure—whether to drink alcohol or to be involved in positive, non-alcohol-related activities—has an enormous influence on the behaviors of school-aged kids. For example:

  • Evidence suggests that alcohol use by peers is a strong predictor of adolescent use of alcohol.
  • According to a 1995 national survey of 4th-6th graders who read the Weekly Reader , 30% of students reported that they received "a lot" of pressure from their classmates to drink beer.
  • Among 8th graders:
    • Students with higher grade point averages reported less alcohol use in the past month.
    • Kids who abuse alcohol may remember 10% less of what they have learned than those who don’t drink.
    • Higher rates of skipping school were associated with greater rates of alcohol use in the past month.
  • One national study found that students are less likely to use alcohol if they are close to people at school, are socially involved with their school, and if they feel that teachers treat students fairly.

Community Influences

Families and schools aren't the only institutions that can have a great influence on kids' behaviors. The community plays an important role as well.

  • Recent advertising expenditures in the United States for beer, wine, and liquor combined ($1.4 billion) totaled about 20 times the amount spent on milk ads ($70.5 million). A total of $910.4 million was spent on beer ads, $135.2 million on wine ads, and $377 million on liquor ads.
  • A study of 5th and 6th grade students found that those who demonstrated an awareness of beer ads also held more favorable beliefs about drinking and intended to drink more frequently when they grew up.
  • One study of midwestern states found that 46% of 9th graders who reported drinking alcohol in the previous month said they got the alcohol from a person aged 21 or older.
  • In 38 states and the District of Columbia, areas with greater numbers of drinking establishments had higher rates of alcoholism.
  • Among drivers aged 15-20, fatal crashes involving a single vehicle at night are three times more likely than other fatal crashes to be alcohol-related.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that the 21-year-old minimum drinking age laws have saved 20,043 lives since the mid-1970s.

Impact on Children's Health and Safety

  • In a 2001 survey, nearly 7% of 9th graders reported driving one or more times while drinking; 30% of 9th graders reported having ridden in a car driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol.
  • Of all children under age 15 killed in vehicle crashes in 2000, 20% were killed in alcohol-related crashes.
  • Among 12-to 17-year-old current drinkers, 31% had extreme levels of psychologic distress, and 39% exhibited serious behavioral problems; 28% of suicides by children ages 9-15 could be attributed to alcohol.
  • A sample of kids age 12-16 who drink alcohol had higher levels of diastolic blood pressure than kids of the same age who did not drink alcohol.
  • Girls, aged 12-16, who are current drinkers are four times more likely than their non-drinking counterparts to suffer ]]>depression]]> .
  • Adolescent girls who drink have higher levels of estradiol (an estrogen) than girls who don't drink. High levels of estrogen may contribute to increased risk for certain diseases, including ]]>breast cancer]]> .

Impact on Society

  • Approximately 14 million Americans—about 7.4% of the adult population—meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse or ]]>alcoholism]]> .
  • More than 50% of American adults have a close family member who has or has had alcoholism.
  • In 1998, the total cost attributable to underage drinking, including costs of traffic crashes, violent crime, injuries, and treatment, was more than $58 billion per year.
  • In 1992, the estimated productivity loss for employees with past or current alcoholism was $66.7 billion. Productivity losses were greatest for male employees who began drinking before age 15.
  • Nearly 60% of 18-to 24-year-old current drinkers who failed to complete high school had begun to drink before age 16.
  • In 1999, the average American drank 32 gallons of beer, compared with 51 gallons of soft drinks, 24 gallons of milk, and 26 gallons of coffee.
  • Men who consume more than two alcoholic drinks per day are at risk for many health problems, including several types of cancer, cerebrovascular disease, accidents, and violence.
  • Alcohol is implicated in more than 100,000 deaths annually.
  • Long-term alcohol abuse is the leading cause of illness and death from liver disease in the U.S.
  • In 1996, about 38% of convicted offenders were drinking at the time of committing the offense.


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Alcoholics Anonymous

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Last reviewed July 2003 by ]]>Richard Glickman-Simon, MD]]>

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.



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