Alcohol is one of the most commonly misused substances in the U.S. among youth and adults.1 Alcohol has the powerful effect of reducing anxiety, fear and other negative feelings, but it also can result in increased anxiety, depression and shame. Most adults report using alcohol at some point in their lifetime. In New Hampshire (NH), about ten percent of 12-17 year olds say they have tried alcohol in the past month.2
Alcohol use by underage youth is a public health issue in NH. Because alcohol is such a commonly used substance, many people believe when youth drink, it is a normal rite of passage for them. However research suggests that these favorable or casual attitudes about youth alcohol use coupled with other factors can actually put a young person at risk of developing a substance use disorder later in life. When caregivers and peers possess favorable attitudes towards use, when alcohol is readily available at home or in the community, and when young people do not feel connected to their schools or communities or families, they are more likely to misuse substances.
Learn what you can do to reduce the harms of all substance misuse.
In New Hampshire, and across the country, recent data show adults are consuming more alcohol since the pandemic. Data kept by the NH Liquor Commission show an increase in sales which could be an indication of increased consumption. According to these data, alcohol sales increased about 5.2% in 2020 compared to 2019 with increases seen in the sale of imported, craft and hard seltzer beers.
Several national surveys echo this trend. One survey found off-premises and online alcohol sales increased 55% and 26.2% as compared to the same time in the previous two years.3 In a Dartmouth-Hitchcock study, looking at the impact of the pandemic on substance use, providers observed a 77% increase in alcohol consumption in April 2020 and an 84% increase four months later in their patients.4 Another national survey conducted by the RAND Corporation found that the overall frequency of alcohol consumption increased by 14% among adults over age 30, compared to the prior year. The increase was 19% among all adults aged 30 to 59, 17% among women and 10% among non-Hispanic White adults. This survey also found women have increased their heavy drinking episodes (four or more drinks within a couple of hours) by 41%.5 Women have shouldered the brunt of the pandemic with limited childcare options, disrupted school schedules and remote work.
Young people tend to drink less often than adults, but when they do drink, they frequently drink more compared to the average adult. That’s because young people consume more than 90% of their alcohol by binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as having (4) four standard drinks for women, or (5) five for men, in about two hours. Binge drinking results in a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaching up to .08 (80mg%). Other factors such as weight, hormones, emotional state and the amount of food you have eaten can influence how quickly your body absorbs the alcohol. Binge drinking is dangerous because too much alcohol in the bloodstream impacts the central nervous system, which controls basic life functions such as breathing, heart rate and temperature. Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol can result in alcohol poisoning, loss of consciousness and even death.
For youth, it is critical to prevent early-stage use or delay use. Research indicates that alcohol use during the teenage years can interfere with normal adolescent brain development and increase the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder later in life. The brains and bodies of youth are developing through age 25; building important neural circuits that impact memory, mood and motivation. Early substance use can impact the development of the prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain responsible for decision making and impulse control. Because the adolescent brain is under major development, it is important to delay use.6
Working together we can protect ourselves, young people and neighbors by supporting policies that promote the safe use of alcohol like limiting where and when alcohol is sold, enforcing underage drinking laws, holding those who drive under the influence accountable and increasing access to treatment and recovery services. Proven prevention strategies include having open and informed conversations, understanding the guidelines of low-risk drinking and serving size, and supporting universal screening of substance use and mental health well-being in healthcare settings and schools. Additionally, community coalitions across the state are implementing a variety of evidence-based strategies to address the substance misuse and related mental health problems facing our communities.
You Have Enormous Influence With The Youth In Your Life
Have Honest And Caring Conversations
Kids don’t have all the facts when it comes to alcohol and other drugs. If parents don’t talk about the risks of underage drinking and substance use, their kids might not see any harm in trying alcohol, vaping or other substances. Having a conversation allows you to set clear rules about what you expect from your kids when it comes to alcohol and other drugs. Showing an interest, helps your kids make better decisions and take fewer risks.
There are concrete things we all can do to help young people make healthy and safe decisions around alcohol use. Start by talking to the young people in your life about the serious physical and emotional harms of alcohol use as a teen. Share your expectations of no alcohol use. Tell them you do not want them to use any substances. Also provide solid supervision of young people and monitor where they are and who they are with. Make time for positive activities like meals, cooking, going for a walk or watching a show. This builds a strong sense of belonging and connectedness to community, family and school. Help build skills around handling emotions, especially a tolerance to cope with strong negative feelings. Practice setting limits and managing stress in your own life, so youth see you cope with healthy strategies. Finally, teach refusal skills. Young people need to feel they have the skills and ability to say “no” when they are offered alcohol or other substances.
Talk with young people, family members and friends in your life about the negative consequences of excessive alcohol use or underage drinking. You can influence their attitudes and beliefs around use and prevent problems. Learn more about the risks so you can provide honest direct answers when talking with your child about cannabis use. Talking about the risks is an important prevention strategy.
Talk with your child about healthy forms of coping. Many young people say they use alcohol to relieve their stress and anxiety. Explore other ways to relax.
Stress your main concern is their health and safety and you are available to help if needed.
Explore with your child why their peers and other young people use alcohol. Share the consequences and your expectations. Stay calm—this is a conversation not a lecture.
A standard drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor. If you are consuming a mixed drink or full glass of wine, that is most likely more than one drink.
The Guidelines note that some people should not drink alcohol at all, if they are:
- are pregnant or might be pregnant.
- are under the legal age for drinking.
- taking certain medications that can interact with alcohol or have certain medical conditions.
- are recovering from an alcohol use disorder or are unable to control the amount they drink.
Universal Screening of of substance use and mental health well-being
Support Universal Screening in healthcare settings and schools.. Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) is an evidence-based practice used to identify, reduce, and prevent abuse and dependence on alcohol and other substances among adults and youth in various settings. SBIRT is part of a comprehensive prevention program that schools can implement to reduce and prevent substance misuse. By supporting SBIRT in your schools and other community settings, you can help your young people make healthy choices. SBIRT provides early identification, referral and support services. To learn more about SBIRT, visit SBIRTNH.org
Learn how your school and other community settings can strengthen healthy coping skills and identify risky behaviors early among youth. Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) is part of a comprehensive prevention program.
Community coalitions are a proven prevention strategy. With a combination of federal, state and local funding, coalitions in NH are making great strides preventing the misuse of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other harmful substances. Across NH, multiple community coalitions, made up of concerned people, have come together to review the data, assess the problem and harmful behaviors, and challenge the community to address the complex factors contributing to substance misuse. Communities vary greatly in the specific problems they face, the groups affected by those problems, and the events that rouse people to take action, but with a bit of guidance, any community can have success in implementing strategies and programs to prevent substance use. To find a regional substance misuse prevention coordinator or coalition in your area, visit NH Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services.
Spotlight Factsheet: Preventing Problematic Drinking: General Facts About Alcohol Use – Information is key to helping to guide and inform conversations about alcohol. Use this fact sheet to gather information on risks related to drinking and the ways in which these risks can be addressed.
Spotlight Factsheet: Preventing Underage Drinking: How You Can Talk to Your Child – Alcohol is everywhere in American society, yet research shows that the longer youth wait before starting to drink the less likely they will struggle with substance use-related issues later in life. Learn how to talk to the youth in your life about alcohol and strategies to create a meaningful and productive conversation.
The “Talk. They Hear You.” campaign aims to reduce underage drinking and substance use among youths under the age of 21 by providing parents and caregivers with information and resources they need to address alcohol and other drug use with their children early. There are also Partner Resources, many of which are customizable for your needs.
Whether you’re just living healthy, planning to become pregnant, pregnant, or breastfeeding, we have research-based resources on alcohol and marijuana use during pregnancy to support you.
Curious if you drink too much? Want to learn about the safe limits of alcohol use and recognize when it is a problem? Find tips and strategies for making a change with your drinking and ways to reduce your risks.
2Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Behavioral Health Barometer: New Hampshire, Volume 6: Indicators as measured through the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health and the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services. HHS Publication No. SMA–20–Baro–19–NH. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2020.