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6% U.S. teens ages 12 to 14 drink alcohol

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The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released a survey on Feb 17 saying that about 5.9 percent of adolescents or 710,000 teens aged 12 to 14 drank alcoholic beverages or alcohol (chemically named ethanol) in any month.

The survey of more than 44,000 respondents aged 12 to 14 was conducted between 2006 and 2009.

Of those who drank, 93.4 percent got their alcohol for free from underage persons (19.6%), parents or guardians (15.7%), home (15.2%), adult relatives (13.9%), unrelated adults (13.5%), someone's home (6.8%), and other sources (8.8%). Only 6.6 percent of them purchased alcohol from bars and liquor stores.

The survey showed that 44.8% of drinking teens got their alcohol from their family or at home.

"People who begin drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are six times more likely than those who start at age 21 and older to develop alcohol problems," said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D.

"Parents and other adults need to be aware that providing alcohol to children can expose them to an increased risk for alcohol abuse and set them on a path with increased potential for addiction."

The Surgeon General says in a document that nearly 10.8 million youth ages 12 to 20 are drinking alcohol illegally.  In any given month, about 15.3 percent of 8th graders, 30.7 percent of 10th graders and 45 percent of 12th graders use alcohol.

Underage drinking can lead to alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse and people who start drinking young are more likely to be an alcohol addict or suffer alcoholism.

Drinking under the legal drinking age kills about 5000 people under the age of 21 - 1,900 from motor vehicle crashes, 1,600 from homicides, 300 from suicide and hundreds from various injuries.

Drinking is linked to increased risk of carrying out; or becoming a victim of a physical or sexual assault; using illicit drugs or substance abuse; social and behavioral problems.

Alcohol, which is metabolized into highly reactive chemical called acetaldehyde in the body, can lead to a series of adverse effects in the body including water loos, electrolyte depletion, deficiency of thiamine, pyridoxine (B6) and vitamin A, and zinc, liver injuries, and pancreatitis.  

The U.S. National Toxicology Program recognizes alcoholic beverages as a probable carcinogen.

By David Liu, Ph.D.