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Health & Parenting

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The Hidden Epidemic of Very Young Alcoholics

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' knowledge.

Now 24, Brooke B. (she doesn't want her last name used) remembers asking her dad for a drink when she was only 10. A shy child, she was always eager to please, to do things perfectly, to make everything right. After her parents divorced and she and her mother moved to Palm Springs, CA, Brooke regularly visited her dad in Coeur d'Alene, ID, where he worked as a beer distributor. On a hot summer day, Brooke asked her dad if she could try one of his beers. To her surprise, he handed her a can. She found the taste "disgusting" at first, she says, but she liked the idea of doing something daring.

"I asked for beer every so often after that, when we were on camping trips, and my dad always gave it to me," she recalls. "Then I started sneaking. It was easy to do because alcohol was everywhere in my dad's house. I snuck it for years and years."

Brooke got drunk for the first time when she was 12, sitting in her father's living room with her then-13-year-old stepsister, watching for the headlights of his car, the signal to hide all evidence of their secret partying. "I knew my dad liked drinking," Brooke says today, "but I also knew what it did to him when he had too much — made him grumpy and sloppy. I guess I was curious to see what it would do to me." She felt transformed. "I didn't have to be shy anymore," Brooke says. "I didn't have to be me."

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