It’s impossible to know what cure will go undiscovered, what useful invention never devised, what art uncreated, what science unimagined, what wisdom unuttered because a boy’s or girl’s potential was submerged in vodka bottles or drowned in cans of beer.
What is possible to know is the heartache of millions of mothers and fathers, siblings, friends, classmates and teachers who are robbed each year of the joys of seeing their loved ones flourish as they fall victim to drinking.
April is Alcohol Awareness Month, an apt time to reflect on the consequences of underage drinking. Alcohol is responsible for more than 4,700 deaths of young people each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Although drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal, people aged 12 to 20 years drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States,” reports the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. And research indicates that more than 90 percent of this alcohol is consumed in incidents of binge drinking. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that, in 2010, there were approximately 189,000 emergency room visits by people under age 21 for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol use.
In 2011, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance researchers reported that two-fifths of high schoolers had drunk alcohol in the previous 30 days, one-fifth binge-drank, almost one in 10 drove after drinking, and one-quarter drove with someone who had been drinking.
According to the CDC, the consequences of underage drinking include scholastic, legal, social and physical problems. It leads to more unplanned, unprotected — and unwanted — sexual activity, physical and sexual assault, higher risks of homicide and suicide, more car crashes with injuries and fatalities, and changes in brain development that may have lifelong effects.