Research has shown that people who use alcohol before age 15 are six times more likely to become alcoholic dependent than adults who begin drinking at age 21.

We want to help you understand alcohol and answer the Who? What? When? And Why Nots? of underage drinking.

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So you keep hearing that alcohol is bad for your brain and your body. But why? And what even is alcohol? Is it really that bad for underage kids? At MAST, we’re here to answer all your questions about alcohol and help you understand why it can be so bad if you’re underage. And parents, what can you do to help? We’ve got those answers too!

How Alcohol Affects Your Body

Throwing up. Blacking out. Making bad choices. Damaging your brain. This doesn’t seem like a fun way to pass the time. Those are just a few of the side effects of alcohol.

Once consumed, alcohol acts a poison, damaging wide variety of organs and structures including the liver, pancreas, heart, bones, and brain.

Alcohol confuses pathways in the brain and makes it difficult for the brain to communicate.  Too much alcohol affects the way the brain looks and works. Alcohol affects your balance, memory, speech, and judgment. Long-term, heavy drinking causes changes in the neurons in your brain and actually makes them smaller. People need those neurons to make good choices. 

Why is drinking so dangerous when someone is underage?

Alcohol & The Developing Brain

During the teenage years, our brains are going through a major renovation! Unnecessary connections are removed, or pruned away. At the same time, the connections that are kept are insulated to allow for faster communication across the brain – a process called myelination.

Pruning and myelination occur gradually over the teenage years and are greatly influenced by our experiences and interactions with the outside world, including alcohol and drugs. Your brain continues developing until your mid-20’s, and exposure to alcohol while it is still growing can cause permanent damage.

The way you feel when you drink alcohol can be an indication of the damage it is doing to different areas in your brain.

First, alcohol affects the frontal lobes, making you feel relaxed and reducing your inhibitions. This can cause you to speak more freely, act loud or rowdy, or do foolish things you later regret. As you continue drinking, your brain starts slowing down and reduces your ability to concentrate, make good decisions, and control your emotions and impulses. This means you’re much more likely to do something you wouldn’t usually do.

In the hypothalamus, alcohol blocks the hormone that tells the kidneys to reabsorb water. As a result, more water is lost as waste. This makes you dehydrated, which explains the headaches and body aches you may experience the next day, otherwise known as a hangover.

Your cerebellum controls your balance, coordination, and motor movements. Alcohol’s effect on your cerebellum is evident when you lose your balance, fall over or have difficulties with standing or walking. This is why injuries are so common when people are intoxicated. Sometimes these injuries are life threatening and even fatal.

Drinking alcohol particularly affects a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which enables us to form new memories. Alcohol interferes with the transfer of information from short term memory to long term memory in a process called memory consolidation. When you drink heavily over a short period of time, this makes it so that your brain is unable to form new memories. This means that the next day you may realize you have gaps in your memory, otherwise known as a blackout.

When your brain is developing, it is especially vulnerable to alcohol and all its negative effects. That means, drinking alcohol at younger ages can change your brain’s structure and the way it actually works! Research has shown that underage drinking can cause not only short-term, but permanent damage.

Look after your brain. It’s the only one you’ve got!

Know the Risks

Alcohol use becomes more likely as adolescents age. In 2019, less than 2% of youth ages 12 to 13 reported drinking alcohol in the past month and less than 1% engaged in binge drinking. Among respondents ages 16 to 17, fewer than 1 in 5 reported drinking and about 1 in 10 reported binge drinking.

It’s important to implement prevention strategies during early adolescence to prevent this escalation.

Binge Drinking

Drinking can easily get out of control. Although youth drink less than adults do, when they do drink, they drink more. Over 90 percent of alcohol consumed by young people is consumed through binge drinking.  One sip can easily lead to another, resulting in some scary and life-threatening consequences.

What is binge drinking?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “binge drinking” refers to alcohol consumption that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to .08 g/dL, which is commonly associated with acute impairment in motor coordination and cognitive functioning.

Estimated Binge Drinking Levels for Adolescents

Girls ages 9-17

3 or more drinks within a 2 hour period

Boys ages 9-13

3 or more drinks within a 2 hour period

Boys ages 14-15

4 or more drinks within a 2 hour period

Boys ages 16-17

4 or more drinks within a 2 hour period

Binge drinking can lead to serious and deadly consequences, including blackouts, alcohol poisoning, and sometimes fatal injuries due to intoxication.

Blackouts. One scary consequence of alcohol misuse is blackouts. When you consume too much alcohol, this can lead to a blackout. These blackouts cause gaps in a person’s memory while they are intoxicated. Can you imagine not being able to remember an entire period of time? This also leaves you vulnerable to the people around you. And even though you may not remember what you did when you were under the influence of alcohol, you’ll likely have to pay the consequences. 

During an alcohol-induced blackout, your brain blocks the transfer of memories from short-term to long-term memory storage. This is known as memory consolidation and can leave you with missing pieces of your life.

Alcohol Poisoning. Blacking out it is scary and dangerous, but an alcohol overdose is even worse. Your body gives warning signs when it’s getting too much alcohol–upset stomach, balance issues, and impairment. But if you don’t stop drinking, this can easily lead to an alcohol overdose. What can happen with an alcohol overdose?

Symptoms & Risks of Alcohol Poisoning

Youth who partake in underage drinking are more likely to experience:

  • Problems in school, including increased absences and lower grades.
  • Social problems, such as fighting or lack of participation in activities.
  • Trouble with the law. Drinking can lead to arrest for drunk driving or physically hurting someone while drunk.
  • Increased rate of physical problems and illnesses
  • Alcohol-induced blackouts and overdoses
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity, which could result in sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Disrupted growth and sexual development.
  • Physical and sexual violence.
  • Increased risk of suicide and homicide.
  • Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and accidental injuries, such as burns, falls, or drowning.
  • Memory problems.
  • Misuse of other substances. 
  • Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.

Underage Drinking Data

Middle School Students (6th - 8th grade)

According to the Georgia Student Health Survey, the percentage of middle schoolers using alcohol in Johnson County is lower than the state average. In all of the grades though, over 90% of Johnson County middle schoolers are not using alcohol.

Source: Georgia Student Health Survey, 2022

High School Students (9th - 12th grade)

The percentage of Johnson County high schoolers not using alcohol drops down to only 67% in 12th grade, as compared to the state average of 85%. It’s important to note, however, that the majority of high schoolers are not using alcohol.

Source: Georgia Student Health Survey, 2022

Common Myths

There is nothing normal about underage drinking. In fact, most kids aren’t using alcohol. Adolescents often feel like they are the only ones not trying alcohol, but it’s simply untrue. 94% of McIntosh County middle schoolers have not consumed alcohol in the past month.

Unfortunately, the risks of alcohol consumption far outweigh any fun someone may have drinking. Drinking can potentially lead to these health risks:

  • Cancer, specifically breast cancer and cancers of the throat, mouth, liver, and esophagus
  • Sudden death
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Heart muscle damage, which can lead to heart failure
  • Accidental injury
  • High blood pressure
  • Brain damage
  • Suicide

Alcohol is alcohol, no matter what kind. A 12 ounce beer and a shot of liquor have about the same amount of alcohol. Plus, taking a sip or two of alcohol here and there can lead to increased drinking. In fact, you are over the legal limit if you drink more than .5 oz of alcohol per hour.

Yes, it’s legal for people 21 and older to drink alcohol. But alcohol is particularly dangerous for people under 21. Because adolescent bodies are still developing, alcohol can have long-term impacts on the body and brain. Plus, statistics show that more teens are killed by alcohol than by all illegal drugs combined. Alcohol is more dangerous because people think it’s harmless. There are 4,300 alcohol-related deaths in minors annually.

Drinking and driving is never safe. Underage drinking and driving is especially dangerous. Nearly ⅓ of all drunk driving deaths occur in victims between the ages of 16-20.

Drinking and driving is never safe. Underage drinking and driving is especially dangerous. Nearly ⅓ of all drunk driving deaths occur in victims between the ages of 16-20.

Prevention Tips for Youth

It’s much easier to think about how you might handle peer pressure to drink. But what about when you are actually in the situation? Maybe you’re at a party, and you feel out of place if you’re not drinking. Or perhaps you’re hanging out at a friend’s house and they know how to get into their parents’ liquor cabinet.

Whatever the situation, you need to be prepared. Here are some ways to help you say “no” and not feel like a social outcast for doing so:

1. Be confident.
2. Make eye contact.
3. Make your feelings about drinking clear. It’s not for you.
4. Stand up for yourself.
5. Don’t feel like you have to make excuses.
6. Before you are in the situation, let your friends and acquaintances know you don’t drink. You are less likely to be pressured in a situation if the people around you know you don’t drink.
7. If it’s a bad situation, make an excuse and get out.

Prevention Tips for Parents

Parents are the strongest example to their children, and it’s important to talk with them about drinking. Parent shouldn’t assume their children haven’t been exposed to alcohol. Parents and teachers play a crucial role in shaping young people’s attitudes and approaches toward drinking. In fact, 80% of children think their parents should have a say in whether or not they drink.

How can you keep your children from drinking?

  • Talk to your child. Teach them about the dangers of drinking.
  • Be a good example. If you drink, do so responsibly. 
  • Build a relationship of trust with your child and be a positive example.
  • Keep an open dialogue with your child and speak regularly.
  • Do not give your children alcohol or make it accessible. 
  • Help your child get involved in healthy and fun activities.
  • Make a point to know your child’s friends. 
  • Meet the parents of your child’s friends and make your viewpoints on alcohol consumption clear. 
  • Supervise all parties and get-togethers whenever possible
  • If you can’t supervise, make sure to set clear boundaries and make sure you know where your child is, who they’re with, and can easily reach them.

You can make a difference regarding your child’s relationship with alcohol. Research shows that children of actively involved parents are less likely to drink alcohol. However, a parent’s example can also negatively impact their child’s view on alcohol consumption.

A child with a parent who binge drinks is much more likely to also binge drink. That’s why it’s so important for parents to set a positive example to help prevent underage drinking in their home.

Warning Signs of Underage Drinking

Middle school and high school is a time of change and growth, physically and emotionally. It’s a time for teenagers to figure out who they are and who they want to be. These changes usually are a normal part of growing up, but sometimes they can point to an alcohol problem.

Parents, families, and teachers should pay close attention to these warning signs, as they can be the result of underage drinking:

  • Any sudden changes in mood, specifically anger and irritability.
  • Extreme rebelliousness.
  • New academic and/or behavioral problems in school.
  • Shifting of friend groups with no apparent reason. 
  • Low energy level.
  • Lack of interest in activities a child historically cares about.
  • Loss of interest in the care of their appearance.
  • Any concentration or memory problems.
  • Slurred speech or coordination problems.
  • Finding alcohol among a young person’s things
  • If you smell alcohol on a young person’s breath, there is likely a drinking problem.

Test Your Knowledge


Test Your Knowledge - Alcohol

1 / 10

Which of the following are symptoms and risks of alcohol poisoning? Select all that apply.

2 / 10

Which of the following statements about underage drinking are true? Choose all that apply.

3 / 10

 In the State of Georgia, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle with an alcohol blood level over ____.

4 / 10

True or False: Alcohol causes only short-term damage.

5 / 10

Which of these statements about alcohol is false?

6 / 10

True or False: You are safe to drive if you've only had a couple beers and you feel fine.

7 / 10

 Which of the following are signs of underage drinking?

8 / 10

Which of the following are tips for saying no to alcohol? Select all that apply.

9 / 10

Why is underage drinking more damaging? Select all that apply.

10 / 10

How much more likely is a person to become dependent on alcohol if they start drinking before the age of 15?

Your score is


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Resources for Parents

Resources for parents to help prevent underage substance abuse, including conversation guides, fact sheets, online resources, and more!

Resources for Youth

Resources for youth to help learn the risks and prevent substance abuse, including apps, games, websites, media, and more!

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