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What are the risks of underage use of alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs?

Early use of alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs puts teens at greater risk for addiction and other health problems, failing in school, and career choices limited by arrests and lack of education.  

Alcohol, marijuana, and other drug use:

  • Can begin as early as the 6th grade.  
  • Can cause more harm to the developing teen brain. Alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs can impair the areas of the brain that control motor coordination, impulse control, memory, learning and judgment. Because the teen brain is still developing, it is more vulnerable than an adult's brain to the effects of alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs. This can lead to school failure and dropout.
  • Can lead to addiction. Kids who drink before age 15 are 4 times more likely to develop alcohol problems as adults (2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health). 
  • Are associated with the top three causes of teen deaths: accidents (including traffic fatalities and drowning), homicide, and suicide (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • Increases the risk of STDs and pregnancy. Teens who drink and use other drugs are more likely to engage in sex and to have sex with four or more partners than teen who don't use.  Such behavior can result in AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy. 
  • Is not safer at home under your supervision. Teens can consume toxic levels of alcohol and marijuana just as easily at home.  You and your teen can be held legally liable for property damage, assault, injuries, and deaths that result from underage use on your property.  If you allow your teen to drink at home, they are more likely to think it's ok to drink or use when they are with their friends.  Learn more about Washington's Social Host law.
  • Can be prevented!  You are the #1 influence on your kids. The key reason kids give for not using alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs is that they don’t want to disappoint their parents (Monitoring the Future survey).  Tips for preventing drug use:
    • Don't accept use as a rite of passage to adulthood
    • Set clear rules against using alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs
    • Help your children deal with peer pressure and stress.
    • Be a good role model - show kids you don’t need a drink to relax or celebrate
    • Talk with them early and often about the ways alcohol and marijuana can harm them, ask questions and be a good listener
    • Stay involved in their lives
    • Know who their friends are, and where they are going
    • Get help fast if your teen is already using.  Call the Washington Recovery Help Line for 24-hour emotional support, referrals and information: 1-866-789-1511

Father and Son