John was a good kid. At 16 years old, like most teenagers, he was brimming with life—funny, kind, friendly, talented—until one decision ended it all too soon.

John was one of 5,000 young people (under the age of 21) who lost their lives that year to alcohol-related causes. For John, it was as a passenger in a vehicle driven by a friend under the influence. For other young people and their families, their futures are changed by life-altering experiences, like eating disorders, dating violence, addiction, and mental illness. Behind each statistic is a real person: a friend, a child, a person full of potential, a human life.

These tragedies are preventable—these lives priceless.

The first step in prevention is acknowledging the facts.

Everybody’s tragedy is defined differently.

– Jack Fontaine

Identify the Warning Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol is the most widely abused substance by young adults, and, unfortunately, that’s just the beginning. We should all be aware that with each phase of alcohol dependency, there are unique risks and behavioral indicators. The sooner these can be addressed, the better.

It Starts Early

It Starts Early

Between the ages of 11-18, it’s possible for kids to go from exploring alcohol use to dependency.

Phase 1: Exploration (Age 10-13)

Phase 1: Exploration (Ages 10-13)

Opportunity arises, and experimentation begins. Pre-teens notice trends and fads, see others using alcohol and want to mimic the behavior.

Phase 2: Usage (13-15)

Phase 2: Usage (Ages 13-15)

Experimenting with peers begins. Teens now have more independence, so unsupervised time provides the opportunity.

Phase 3: Dependency (Ages 16-18)

Phase 3: Dependency (Ages 16-18)

Alcohol is now a form of entertainment, and parties often offer the first exposure to drugs.

Red Flags (Ages 16-19)

Red Flags (Ages 16-19)

By 19, serious consequences start showing up.

Phase 4: Addiction (Ages 19-21)

Phase 4: Addiction (Ages 19-21)

Family and friends begin to notice behavior changes and become suspicious. They may suddenly have new friends, start having problems at school or get in trouble with the law. Family relations become strained as the young adult denies usage.

Phase 5: Crisis (Ages 22-32)

Phase 5: Crisis (Ages 22-32)

Usage results in jail, halfway houses, hospitals (for health issues) and recovery centers. Financial strains appear. In this final stage, there is admission of addiction. Everyone becomes aware of the issue, and action is taken to address the problem.

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Cascading Impacts

The effects of addiction and substance abuse ripple across many years and many people.

Almost 24 million

Americans are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.

Many Addicts

started with early alcohol abuse, vaping, marijuana use or other high-risk behaviors.

1 in 6 Users

who started marijuana as an adolescent will become dependent.

Over 9%

of ninth and twelfth graders admit to abusing pain medication.

Bad Decisions Come with Lifelong Consequences

Young people who drink and engage in one of 18 high-risk behaviors identified in our BrainAbouts® program are more likely to experience life-changing consequences.

Underage drinking and drug use can lead to:

  • Unsafe sex
  • Violence – as a victim and/or perpetrator
  • Slow or damaged brain development
  • Increased probability of addiction
  • Lower school or job performance

The age of exposure and addiction starts far earlier than most parents think, and the time to act is NOW. Why wait until someone is suffering from depression, addiction or worse long into their 30s?

– René Zamore, Executive Director, JFJC

It’s Never Too Early to Start the Conversation

Age 9

Average age of first pornography exposure


Estimated percentage of American kids, ages 8-18, considered to be addicted to video games.

Age 11

Average age boys are first exposed to alcohol

Age 13

Average age girls are first exposed to alcohol

1 in 5 Students

report being bullied on and offline.

160,000 Students

skip school each day because of bullying.

20% Adolescents

report experiencing physical dating violence.

What You Can Do About It

We’ve all been impacted in some way by tragic circumstances. Many times, these experiences could have been prevented with early, consistent education and conversations. Here’s how you can help: