Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are not only adult problems -- they also affect a significant number of adolescents and young adults between the ages of 12 and 20, even though drinking under the age of 21 is illegal.
The average age when youth first try alcohol is 11 years for boys and 13 years for girls. The average age at which Americans begin drinking regularly is 15.9 years old.
According to research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, adolescents who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21.
An early age of drinking onset is also associated with alcohol-related violence not only among persons under age 21 but among adults as well.
It has been estimated that over three million teenagers are out-and-out alcoholics. Several million more have a serious drinking problem that they cannot manage on their own.
The three leading causes of death for 15- to 24-year-olds are automobile crashes, homicides and suicides -- alcohol is a leading factor in all three.
While drinking may be a singular problem behavior for some, research suggests that for others it may be an expression of general adolescent turmoil that includes other problem behaviors and that these behaviors are linked to unconventionality, impulsiveness, and sensation seeking.
Binge drinking, often beginning around age 13, tends to increase during adolescence, peak in young adulthood (ages 18-22), then gradually decrease. Individuals who increase their binge drinking from age 18 to 24 and those who consistently binge drink at least once a week during this period may have problems attaining the goals typical of the transition from adolescence to young adulthood (e.g., marriage, educational attainment, employment, and financial independence).
Dependence on alcohol and other drugs is also associated with several psychiatric problems, such as:
oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
antisocial personality disorder
Whether anxiety and depression lead to or are consequences of alcohol abuse is not known.
Alcohol use among adolescents has also been associated with considering, planning, attempting, and completing suicide. Research does not indicate whether drinking causes suicidal behavior, only that the two behaviors are correlated.
Parents' drinking behavior and favorable attitudes about drinking have been positively associated with adolescents' initiating and continuing drinking. Children who were warned about alcohol by their parents and children who reported being closer to their parents were less likely to start drinking.
Lack of parental support, monitoring, and communication have been significantly related to frequency of drinking, heavy drinking, and drunkenness among adolescents. Harsh, inconsistent discipline and hostility or rejection toward children have also been found to significantly predict adolescent drinking and alcohol-related problems.
Peer drinking and peer acceptance of drinking have also been associated with adolescent drinking.
The most common and effective way for an individual to combat his or her addictive behaviors is through a self-help support group, with advice and support from a health care professional. Treatment should also involve family members because family history may play a role in the origins of the problem and successful treatment cannot take place in isolation.