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The link between underage drinking and behavioral issues

Some parents believe that it's normal for teens to "experiment" with alcohol, even if they're too young to drink legally. However, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) asserts that teen drinking can lead to some serious behavioral and emotional issues.

According a study by SAMHSA, kids between 12 and 17 who reported that they drink were more likely to admit to behavior that could get them in trouble at school or with the law, such as stealing, fighting, skipping school, running away from home, driving under the influence and using illicit drugs (illegal drugs or prescription drugs used for nonmedical purposes).

They were also more likely to say that they felt depressed and had considered suicide. In fact, teens who described themselves as heavy drinkers were three times more likely to acknowledge that they had tried to harm or kill themselves than those who said they didn't drink.

Of course, some adolescents drink more than others. The good news is that heavy and binge drinking has been on the decline among young people. However, the link between how much a young person drinks and his or her use of illicit drugs is strong. Those who described themselves as heavy drinkers were 16 times more likely to report using illicit drugs within the last month than those who didn't drink. Self-described light drinkers were 8 times more likely to have used them.

It's important for parents to realize that a child's alcohol use combined with any of these behavioral or emotional issues can be a warning sign that he or she needs help. While it may be tempting to let a child face the legal consequences of an arrest for underage drinking, DUI or some other illegal activity in order to learn a lesson, a criminal conviction, even as a juvenile, can have a serious impact on that child's life, both in the short-term and long-term.

Source: Verywellmind.com, "Teen Drinking and Behavior Problems," Feb. 24, 2018

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