Alcohol Awareness Month: Underage Drinking

Virginia Johnson, CSAPC – Substance Use Prevention Director

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence declared April as Alcohol Awareness Month in 1987 to increase awareness and understanding of alcohol addiction. Alcohol addiction is a chronic, progressive disease, and it is fatal if untreated. In North Carolina, 15.6% of high school students report having their first drink before the age of 13 (YRBS, 2017). Youth who began drinking before the age of 15 have a 40% chance of becoming addicted, as opposed to only 7% chance if they wait until they are 21. Alcohol addiction is treatable and it is preventable, but we have to start early.

The immediate impacts of excessive drinking include blackouts; alcohol overdose; unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity; alcohol-related car crashes; unintentional injuries, and other risky behaviors. More than 4,300 deaths occur each year in the United States due to underage drinking. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (2017), 12.4% of North Carolina high school teens report currently binge drinking and 15.4% have ridden in a car with someone who has been drinking.

The long-term impacts of underage drinking are numerous, because alcohol has a devastating impact on the developing adolescent brain. Alcohol use not only impacts judgement, but it also interferes with the development of the part of the brain that controls decision-making and impulse control. The brain does not fully mature until a person is in their mid-twenties, and using alcohol at a young age can keep that area of the brain from fully developing. This can affect behaviors and decision-making ability for the duration of their lifetime. Despite these terrifying realities, about 60% of high school teens in the United States have consumed alcohol. In North Carolina, 26.5% of high school teens report being current drinkers (YRBS, 2017).

We do not share these statistics to scare you. We share them to inform you and to empower you to make a difference. Even though they may not show it on a regular basis, teens want parents to set clear guidelines and expectations. It is important to talk to your kids about the dangers of alcohol and other drugs, and about your values as a family. Considering that most children have seen adults drinking alcohol on TV or in real life before they start kindergarten, that more than 15% of NC teens have had their first drink before the age of 13, and that by 8th grade, the majority of teens have favorable attitudes towards alcohol consumption, it is never too early to begin the conversation (YRBS, 2017).

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommends these tips when talking to your child about alcohol.1.Show you disapprove of underage drinking and other drug misuse.
2. Show you care about your child’s health, wellness, and success.
3. Show you’re a good source of information about alcohol and other drugs.
4. Show you’re paying attention and you’ll discourage risky behaviors.
5. Build your child’s skills and strategies for avoiding drinking and drug use.

The conversation around alcohol needs to be ongoing. Use the opportunities of everyday life as reasons to naturally bring up the conversation. If driving down the road and a song comes on the radio about alcohol, take the opportunity for a teachable moment. If watching a TV show and a character is offered a drink, ask what are the options someone has in that situation. Roleplay the situation with your child and practice creative ways to say “no” when offered alcohol. This will build confidence in their skills and ability to abstain from consuming alcohol.

For more information on how to talk to your child visit or download the app, Talk. They Hear You for interactive scenarios and tips. You can also take the pledge and encourage others to take the pledge to start talking to your child about alcohol here.

If you are concerned about your drinking, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has a list of medical substance use service providers throughout the state: Local Management Entities By County.


Alcohol and the Adolescent Brain: Immediate Impairment, Long-Term Consequences.
Centers for Disease Control. Facts Sheets – Underage Drinking.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Starting the Conversation.
TOOLKIT: Alcohol Awareness Month.U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Classroom Crio Lesson – The Cranium Connection

Grade Level: 6th-8th grade
Program Length: 15-45 minutes

The Poe Center has partnered with SAS through Curriculum Pathways to provide online access to health science and health education lessons at no cost to teachers across the State of North Carolina. Designed to complement its health education curriculum, the Poe Center’s programs and online content are aligned with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Healthful Living and Science Essential Standards.

Substance Use and Our Brains begins with a quick overview of the brain regions and their core functions. It takes a look at the effects of stimulants, depressants and hallucinogens on on the specific regions of the brain and how they impact the core functions. Check out our library of Crio courses today!

Featured Poe Program: #YouthCulture: Adolescent Brain Development and Addiction

Grade Level: Designed for Parents and Youth-Serving Adults
Program Length: 90 minutes

The Poe Center’s #YouthCulture workshop series is designed to empower parents and guardians by providing insight into the environment and culture around youth. The Adolescent Brain Development and Addiction session explores how the developing adolescent brain shapes perceptions and behavior, how early onset substance use affects the development of the adolescent brain, and explore ways to enhance parent-child communication. Participants will learn important skills and resources to address the trends in substance use today. All participants will receive a free packet of supportive materials and resources.

To schedule a program for your PTA, faith organization, or community, contact Susan Foster at: [email protected] or 919-231-4006.