- Camie Young For the AJC
According to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, 8.7 million American kids ages 12-20 consume alcohol. In Georgia, 23.6 percent of children in that age range reported drinking within the past month, according to a survey included in a report to Congress.
To keep your kids safe, educate them before they take their first sips.
Here are some things to consider about when talking with your teen or preteen about alcohol.
Understand the law
Everyone knows the legal drinking age is 21, but Georgia is one of 45 states that has an exception to allow for underage consumption in some circumstances.
The law states children can drink for medical purposes, with a prescription. Although it was a common practice a century ago, doctors don't prescribe alcohol these days. Instead, the laws allow for the fact that many medications, such as Benadryl and Nyquil, contain alcohol.
The law also allows exceptions for religious reasons, such as communion, or with parental permission. Don't think that means you can throw a party; providing alcohol to minors who aren't your own is still illegal.
Experts from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism say a parent's disapproval is one of the biggest reasons a child will choose not to drink. So don't be afraid to tell your kids you don't approve.
Don't drink and drive
Teens should never drink and drive. In fact, DUI laws are much stricter for underage drivers than for adults. For underage drivers, the blood-alcohol limit is 0.02; for adults it's 0.08.
"Any smell of alcohol on an underage driver behind the wheel, you go to jail," said William C. Head, an Atlanta attorney who has represented more than 4,500 defendants in criminal cases involving alcohol, including DUIs. "This is true even if the young driver refuses to be tested for impairing substances."
The rape conviction of Stanford student Brock Turner brought a renewed attention to the problem of sexual assaults involving alcohol.
"The Stanford case is one of thousands each year, most of which are not reported," Head pointed out.
Research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism concluded that about half of all rape cases involve alcohol consumption by the attacker, victim or both.
Get help when you need it
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4,300 deaths of minors each year are attributed to excessive drinking, and alcohol was linked to 189,000 trips to the emergency room for people under the age of 21 in 2010.
But kids who call 911 to get help for their impaired friends are not going to get in trouble, thanks to the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty Law.
"(This is a) very important law for any person who is suffering from possible drug overdose or alcohol poisoning," Head said. "Death is a very real outcome, and many thousands die annually from alcohol poisoning."
There is another reason why drinking is illegal for minors: It isn't healthy.
Research has shown that underage drinking can have a long-term impact on the brain, which hasn't fully developed until a person is well into their 20s or even 30s.
Teens are also more likely to binge drink than adults, and the CDC lists a higher risk for suicide and homicide among the consequences of underage drinking.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration encourages parents to talk to their children about alcohol when they are as young as 9. For some more tips, resources are available to parents at www.underagedrinking.samhsa.gov.