"If you drink alcohol before the age of 15 you are about five times more likely to experience a serious problem with alcohol or other drug use at or after the age of 21," he explained. "That's why so many prevention programs are trying to delay kids from using alcohol, because the older you are [when you start drinking], the more judgment you have, and the less likely you are to develop problems later in life."
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 5,000 youngsters and teens under the age of 21 die each year as a result of underage drinking, including deaths from falls, burns and drowning. Frequent binge drinkers who are underage are also more likely to get D's and F's in school and to engage in risky sexual and drug-taking behavior.
"We have to start talking to our kids about this issue. Talk to them all the time -- it's not a onetime discussion," Delany added.
Delany noted the data on very young drinkers came from the 2006 to 2009 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, which involved responses from more than 44,000 respondents aged 12 to 14. The sample was from across the country and included families from a variety of socioeconomic groups.
Dr. Gwen Wurm, an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said, "This is something we have known: kids do get their alcohol at home."
"As parents we need to guide our children into the kind of appropriate choices they can be making," she said.
Being open and honest about what alcohol is and its dangers to the developing brain should be an important part of the discussion, Wurm said. In addition, she said, parents need to include alcohol as part of the discussion about drugs and sex.
Another expert, David Jernigan, an associate professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, places
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