What You Should Know About Drugs & Alcohol

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Alcohol is the most commonly used illegal substance by teenagers.

This is due to many factors:

  • Easy assess to alcohol.
  • Perception that alcohol is not as serious as other drugs.
  • Social acceptance of alcohol among adults.

It’s important to know that in 2020, “teens who drink alcohol – a whopping 74% – usually get it for free. They get it from family members and friends, at parties, or by taking it without permission from their home or someone else’s. Among those who paid for the alcohol, most persuaded an unrelated person to buy it for them.” (Source: Federal Trade Commission)

Why 21?

The legal drinking age of 21 is based on science and medical fact.

  • The adolescent brain is developing rapidly. Alcohol prohibits this development.
  • The adolescent brain has not yet developed the “cut-off switch” for alcohol.
  • Drinking alcohol at a young age increases the likelihood of life-long dependence.
  • Drinking alcohol at a young age dramatically increases the use of other illicit drugs.

Learn more about the impact of alcohol on the developing and teenage brain here.

Why do they use?

There are many reasons why a teen starts drinking or using drugs. But it is important for parents to understand some of the core issues and influences in order to talk with their kids before it begins. According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, the top 8 reasons why teens start drinking and/or using drugs includes:

  1. Other people
  2. Popular media
  3. Escape and self-medication
  4. Boredom
  5. Rebellion
  6. Instant Gratification
  7. Lake of Confidence
  8. Misinformation

(Source: Drug Free America)


Teens tend to drink less often than adults. When teens do drink alcohol, they often drink much more than adults.

On average, teens have 5 or more drinks on a single occasion. This is called binge-drinking. Binge-drinking is a dangerous way of drinking that can lead to serious problems and death.

Adolescent teenagers brains are still forming and have not yet developed the “cut-off” mechanism that makes them sleep or pass out from excessive drinking. Instead, teens can consume dangerous amounts of alcohol before they realize it’s too late. Adults rarely suffer from alcohol poisoning, but excessive drinking can often bring teens to this dangerous medical condition.

Early Alcohol Use & Long-Term Addiction

Drinking at an early age dramatically increases the likelihood of life-long alcohol dependency.

Alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse by American youth. More youth are drinking alcohol that are using tobacco or illicit drugs. Today, 10% of 12-year olds have had alcohol, and this percentage increases to 50% by age 15. Research has shown that drinking alcohol at an early age can lead to alcohol-related problems later in life. Of adults who started drinking alcohol before age 15, approximately 40% say they have the signs of alcohol dependence. This dependency rate is five times higher than for adults who didn’t drink until they were age 21. (Source: Journal of Substance Abuse)

More than 67% of young people who start drinking by age 15 will try an illicit drug. As compared to children who never drink, children who drink are:

  • 7.5 times more likely to use an illicit drug.
  • 22 times more likely to use marijuana.
  • 50 times more likely to use cocaine.

(Source: Lake County Prevention Task Force)

Taking Away the Keys Is Not Enough

Each year, approximately 5,000 people die as a result of underage drinking, and most of these deaths have nothing to do with operating a motor vehicle.

Underage alcohol use is a major cause of death among young people in the US.

  • 1,900 deaths from alcohol-induced motor vehicle crashes.
  • 1,600 deaths from alcohol-induced homicides.
  • 300 deaths from alcohol-induced suicides.
  • More than 1,000 deaths from alcohol-induced falls, burns, and drowning.

(Source: Journal of Substance Abuse)

Why Teens Choose NOT to Drink Alcohol

Teens can and do choose to not use drugs or drink alcohol. Research clearly shows strong parental disapproval is the number one reason why teens choose not to drink alcohol.

When teens were asked to rank the major influences in their lives, parents are #1 and family #2, before their friends and other influences.

And, there’s more good news. Research shows that teens who regularly eat together with their family 5-7 times per week are 33% less likely to use alcohol.

Involved parents who have daily positive communication with their children and who set clear rules and expectations about underage drinking have more influence than friends or peers. Start talking about drugs and alcohol with your children early and talk often.

Looking for helpful tips? Check out our Talking Tips page as a guide for talking to kids of all ages about drugs and alcohol. Remember – it’s not one 60 minute conversation, but 60 one-minute conversations that make the difference.

Social Host Law in Illinois

The Illinois Social Host Law (Public Act 097-1049) went into effect January 1, 2013, and holds adults accountable for underage drinking that occurs in the home. There are several parts to this law.

• If you allow or host a party at your house and provide alcohol to people under age 21 (or if you know or should have known that they are drinking alcohol), you are guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. This will result in a fine. Note that you are held responsible regardless if you are the one who provides the alcohol AND regardless if you are home or not.

• If a minor who was drinking at your house injures or kills someone, you are guilty of a Class 4 felony. This could result in both a fine and/or jail time.

• You will not be guilty of violating the law if you request help from the police to help remove the underage drinkers and stop the gathering. This only holds if you make the first one to call—not if the police show up after a complaint from a neighbor and then you ask for help.In addition, depending on local community ordinances, you may also be held responsible for the costs of emergency services/law enforcement that respond to a call, attorney fees and other costs associated.

(Source: Illinois Liquor Control Commission)

If you are hosting tween and/or teen gatherings, be sure to check out our Safe Party Tips (en Espanol). 

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