Get the Facts

What are the risks of underage use of alcohol and other drugs?

Early use of alcohol and other drugs puts teens at greater risk for addiction and other health problems, failing in school, and career choices limited by arrests and lack of education.  

If your child asks if you used alcohol or other drugs as a teen, treat their question seriously.  Just because you or someone you know survived doesn’t mean your children will.

Alcohol and other drug use:

  • Can begin as early as the 6th grade.  
  • Can cause more harm to the developing teen brain. Alcohol and other drugs can impair the areas of the brain that control motor coordination, impulse control, memory, learning and judgment.  Because the teen brain is still developing, it is more vulnerable than an adult's brain to the effects of alcohol and other drugs.  This can lead to school failure and dropout.
  • Is associated with the top three causes of teen deaths: accidents (including traffic fatalities and drowning), homicide, and suicide. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Over 1,800 college students die each year as a result of underage drinking.
  • Increases the risk of STDs and pregnancy. Teens who drink and use other drugs are more likely to engage in sex and to have sex with four or more partners than teen who don't use.  Such behavior can result in AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy. 
  • Can lead to addiction. Kids who drink before age 15 are 4 times more likely to develop alcohol problems as adults (2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health). 
  • Is not safer at home under your supervision. Teens can overdose on alcohol or marijuana just as easily at home.  You and your teen can be held legally liable for property damage, assault, injuries, and deaths that result from underage use on your property.  If you allow your teen to drink at home, they are more likely to think it's ok to drink or use when they are with their friends.  Learn more about Washington's Social Host law.
  • Can be prevented!  You are the #1 influence on your kids. The key reason kids give for not using alcohol or other drugs is that they don’t want to disappoint their parents (Monitoring the Future survey).  You can help prevent alcohol and drug use by:
    • Not accepting use as a rite of passage to adulthood
    • Setting clear rules against using
    • Helping your children deal with peer pressure
    • Being a good role model - show kids you don’t need a drink to relax or celebrate
    • Talking with them early and often about the ways alcohol and marijuana can harm them, and being a good listener
    • Staying involved in their lives
    • Knowing who their friends are, and where they are going
    • Getting help fast if your teen is already using.  Call the Washington Recovery Help Line for 24-hour emotional support, referrals and information: 1-866-789-1511