The Hidden Epidemic of Very Young Alcoholics
A Hidden Epidemic
The total number of underage drinkers has remained almost the same since the
early 1990s — about 20 percent of eighth-graders and 58 percent of 12th-graders
report being drunk at least once in their lives. But these statistics disguise
an even more disturbing fact: Some studies show that kids who drink are
starting earlier. Much earlier.
"A third of kids ages 12 to 17 had their first drink before 13,"
says Susan Foster, director of policy research for the National Center on
Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). "That's about
6.4 million kids, many more than there have been historically. Very young
drinkers are a huge concern."
No large, nationally representative studies specifically track drinking
before age 12. But in a national survey conducted by researchers at the
University of Michigan, a significant number of 13-year-old drinkers reported
starting two years earlier, at age 11. At least one national study, sponsored
by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, says that nearly 10 percent of
9-year-olds have had more than a sip of liquor — a finding that suggests that
approximately 427,000 9-year-olds have tried alcohol. And some do more than
try. "We've received calls from parents of kids as young as 8," says
Cole Rucker, CEO and cofounder of Echo Malibu, a California residential
treatment center. "Every year, alcohol use shows up in younger and younger
Kids who start drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to have
later problems with alcohol abuse than those who start drinking at 21,
according to a long-term national survey by the National Institute on Alcohol
Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Young drinkers may set themselves up for a host
of other troubles, experts say, including abuse of different drugs; possible
impairment of critical, developing brain areas; and accidents, suicides, and
homicides. They're more likely to be the victims of a violent crime, and more
likely to have unprotected sex, contract STDs, and get pregnant. And they are
also four times more likely to be involved in car crashes than kids who don't
drink at all, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
How Kids Get Started
Where do kids that young get liquor? Many, like Mary, are supplied by older
friends or siblings. Others live in households where little or no effort is
made to keep alcohol out of kids' hands. In two nationwide surveys sponsored by
the American Medical Association in 2005, underage drinkers (the study polled
kids as young as 13) said they found it easy to obtain alcohol from an adult.
Two-thirds said it was easy to get alcohol at home without their parents'
finding out — and one-third said they could get it easily with their parents'