Originally Published on alcohol.org

Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) reports. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) publishes that close to 90 percent of all American adults report drinking alcohol at least once in their lifetimes, according to the 2015 national survey.

Alcohol is a legal mind-altering substance that adults can enjoy responsibly in moderation. Underage drinking is a major public health issue, however. Underage drinking is consuming alcohol before the legal drinking age of 21NIAAA reports that 60 percent of teenagers have had at least one alcoholic drink by the time they turn 18.

Alcohol impairs brain functions and disrupts natural brain chemistry, impacting parts of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, impulse control, thinking, decision-making, and memory formation. These regions of the brain are not fully developed in adolescence, and introducing alcohol prior to full development of the brain can have lasting consequences.

NCADD warns that drinking alcohol before age 15 increases the risk fivefold that a person will struggle with alcohol abuse and dependence after they turn 21. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published that underage drinking contributed to over 4,000 youth deaths and close to 200,000 emergency room visits.

Parents play a big role in teaching children how to be responsible and healthy adults. As a result, parents need to educate their children on responsible consumption of alcohol.

Responsible Alcohol Consumption

NIAAA publishes that for a man, drinking less than four standard drinks a day and 14 drinks a week (three drinks a day and seven drinks a week for a woman) constitutes a pattern of low-risk drinking. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 considers moderate alcohol consumption no more than one drink per day for a man and no more than two drinks per day for a woman. A standard drink, as published by NIAAA, is:

  • One beer: 12 ounces containing 5% alcohol
  • One glass of wine: 5 ounces containing 12% alcohol
  • One serving of malt liquor: 8-9 ounces containing 7% alcohol
  • One shot of distilled spirits: 1.5 ounces of 80 proof liquor containing 40% alcohol

These Dietary Guidelines are only for people who already consume alcohol, and they recommend that a person shouldn’t start drinking if they don’t already. Pregnant women and those under the legal drinking age of 21 are not recommended to drink at all.