What to look for

Do you suspect your underage child is drinking? The first thing you should do is ask them honestly. They may deny it, and they may be telling the truth. However, you have the right to investigate a little further. Of course you want to have a trusting relationship with your child, but this is for their safety and their long-term health. Remember, you’re their parent, not their peer.

Here are some signs your son or daughter may be drinking:

  • Alcohol is missing from bottles or cans in your home
  • Breath mints or mouthwash may be an attempt to mask the odor of alcohol
  • Unusual aggression or rebelliousness
  • Hangs around with different friends and is more secretive than usual
  • Skips school
  • Gets lower grades
  • Borrows money more often
  • Hides alcohol in backpack, car, or room
  • Intoxicated behavior such as stumbling or moving awkwardly, with slurred speech and a dull, unfocused look or bloodshot eyes

What parents can do

Whether your child has been caught drinking by you, another parent, the police — or even if they’ve never had a sip in their life — there’s no wrong time to discuss the health risks and dangers of alcohol and why it’s so bad for kids to start drinking before they’re 21.

Here are some tips to help you limit your child’s access to alcohol.

If you have alcohol in the house, be sure it’s not accessible.
Either keep it in a locked up cabinet, with the key in a spot your kids can’t find it, or keep it in a place that isn’t very obvious.
Communicate with your son or daughter.
Openly discuss the side effects, health dangers, and legal ramifications of drinking alcohol — especially before they start sneaking it behind your back.
Be a parent.
You know alcohol is a potential problem; be sure your kids know you’re involved. Monitor their behavior. Help them anticipate and handle challenging situations.
Keep track of your kids.
You should always know what your child does after school, at night, and on weekends — and with whom.

Consequences of underage drinking

For minors:

Health risks, legal risks, life risks. Kids need to know the consequences of drinking, or they won’t know why it’s so dangerous. The most likely — and most unfortunate — consequences of underage drinking include:

  • School problems such as higher absence and poor or failing grades
  • Social problems such as fighting and lack of participation in youth activities
  • Legal problems such as arrest for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk
  • Physical problems such as hangovers or illnesses
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity
  • Disruption of normal growth and sexual development
  • Physical and sexual assault
  • Higher risk for suicide and homicide
  • Car crashes, drownings, burns, falls
  • Memory problems
  • Abuse of other drugs
  • Changes in brain development that may have lifelong effects
  • Death from alcohol poisoning
  • If you drive after drinking, you could be hurt or killed. Or you could hurt or kill someone else.

For adults:

The consequences for adults who supply alcohol to kids are primarily legal. However, adults could likely also face emotional consequences should anything happen to someone they provided alcohol to. The legal consequences include:

Jail
Misdemeanor convictions of supplying alcohol to a minor can range from 60 days to a year. Felony convictions result in prison sentences of at least a year, and possibly five years or more.
Fines
Misdemeanor convictions of supplying alcohol to a minor can result in fines ranging from $500 to $5,000. Felony convictions could surpass $50,000.
Court costs
They can differ significantly, though costs of $100 to $200 or more are quite common.
Probation
Probation is likely and will typically last at least 12 months. In most cases, you’re also required to perform certain actions, such as report to a probation officer or maintain employment.
Title 4 chapter 9 § 904 Offenses concerning certain persons.

Funding for this project (SP15607) has been provided by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, through a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).