“It floors everybody when nine- and twelve-year-olds get involved with alcohol and drugs!”
-Dr. Camille Barry, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, Department of Health & Human Services (Jersild, 2001, p. 100)
When people think of kids using drugs or alcohol, they typically think of teenagers. Yet there’s no shortage of preteen kids using drugs or alcohol, or even becoming addicts at such tender ages like 7 or 8.
Victoria, now a struggling alcoholic, says “My father was an alcoholic, and 90 percent of my relatives are, so alcohol was always in my life. I knew I liked the taste when I was about eight years old.” She idolized her distant father, who was a drinker. “I loved my daddy, he wanted to drink, and I wanted to see what it was about.” At 9-years-old she was sneaking into the basement to taste his vodka. “It burned, but you know, I got the little buzz.” By 13 she was drinking regularly as well as smoking pot. (Jersild, 2001)
Actress Drew Barrymore was experimenting with drugs and alcohol as a young preteen, and by age 11 had already progressed to hard drugs like cocaine. The singer Pink, reeling from her parents’ divorce, started smoking cigarettes at age 9, and by 12 was into heavy drugs. Actress Selma Blair began drinking at the age of 7, after discovering wine at Passover Seder. (Miller, 2019) Hunter Biden, son of President Biden, had his first drink at age 8.
Another man writes, “When I was 9 or 10, three of my best friends would all take turns sneaking alcohol out of our parents’ houses. Then in one of our garages, we would drink the liquor and smoke cigarettes. It was like a street corner thing but it was in a garage.” (Hanson et al., 2004, p. 71)
Between 2% and 3% of 12-year-olds are currently using alcohol. (Hanson et al., 2004, p. 303) While this may not seem like much, it amounts to around 1 child in every classroom of 33 students.
A small subset of kids will even get involved in patterns of substance abuse as young as 4 or 5, usually with the help of an adult. It’s rare but not unheard of to encounter 6-year-old alcoholics or first graders who are daily pot smokers. In other cases, small kids may get started using inhalants and become an addict without ever realizing that they are using drugs.
When a child begins early dabbling in drinking or drug use, the higher the odds are that they’ll fall into addiction. In an analysis of survey data on substance use, it was found that more than 40% of respondents who began drinking before age 15 became dependent on alcohol at some point in their lives, compared with 24.5% of those who began drinking at 17, and 10% of those who began drinking at age 21 or 22. (Grant & Dawson, 1998) This is part of the reasoning behind pushing the legal drinking age back to 21.