Heartland Human Services

Underage Drinking

By Kerrie Habing, Substance Abuse Counselor, CADC, MHP


Growing up in a rural area, jokes about underage drinking are the norm. “Why are kids from T-Town so tall? Their parents keep the liquor on the top shelf!” “You know you’re from Effingham County when your town has more bars than churches!” Passing around a cowboy boot in the lunchroom on Monday morning to collect change for the ‘rookie sophomore’ who got a DUI over the weekend is not the norm. Ring Day, senior skip day, church picnics, etc. All of these statements and events are breeding grounds for normalizing the behavior of underage drinking.
          According to samhsa.gov, alcohol is a contributing factor in 189,000 emergency room visits and 4,300 deaths of people under the age of 21. The website goes on to state that, “youth who start drinking before age 15 are almost 5 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21.” In my professional experience, most clients who present with symptoms of severe substance use disorders began their use of alcohol before age 13.
          The brain isn’t finished developing until one reaches their early 20s. The last part of the brain to form (the Frontal Lobe) is responsible for logical decision making and processing long-term consequences of one’s actions. This part of the brain connects the morals/ethics we are taught to the decisions we make. Consumption of alcohol, especially in binge patterns, before development of crucial brain functions can have long lasting effects on a person’s ability to make healthy, rational decisions later in life.
          SAMSHA’s “Talk. They Hear You.” campaign founded in 2006 provides support and resources for parents and caregivers to begin talking to their children as early as 9 years old. Their goal is to encourage parents and communities to stop normalizing underage drinking.
SAMSHA also helps communities organize town hall meetings to educate citizens on effective prevention strategies including limiting public availability of alcohol and encouraging family-friendly sober functions. The link to this information is attached below. It is imperative for the public to remember that the brains of minors are unable to process the same boundaries and rules that adults can. Being proactive in preventing underage drinking is beneficial for the community as a whole.
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Psychologists advise those who have feelings of depression lasting more than two weeks to seek professional advice.  If you or a loved one are experiencing  any symptoms of depression, contact Heartland Human Services at 217-347-7179 or take a free screening at www.heartlandhs.org