We all know that teen drinking is a big issue in the United States. A 2011 survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that 22% of high school students binge drank at least once in that school year. The 2012 Monitoring the Future Study, which surveys drug trends amongst high school students, reports that 62% of 12th graders drank that year.
But what is the real danger here? Young people are usually healthier than adults, and are therefore more likely to “bounce back” after a night of hard drinking than someone over the age of 21. So, why is teen drinking considered a major public health problem?
Underage Drinking Statistics
Although drinking alcohol under the age of 21 is illegal here in the US, 11% of all the alcohol in the US is consumed by kids between the age of 12 and 20. More than 90% of this alcohol is consumed when young people are binge drinking.
In 2010 alone, there were about 189,000 emergency room visits from underage people suffering from injuries, etc. caused by alcohol consumption and alcohol poisoning. These numbers are alarming in themselves, but when you add the fact that underage drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths annually, there is cause for real concern.
Dangers of Underage Drinking
When you tell a teenager “DON’T DRINK!” what do you think they will do, probably the same day? If you said they would drink, you’d probably be right. Young people tend to resent it when you tell them you know better than them. After all, you’re an adult – what do you know?
Regardless, you as an adult may indeed possess the experience and the wisdom to make informed decisions about life. The minimum legal drinking age was created based on actual research. In general, a teenager will get drunk considerably faster than an adult, but have a harder time judging when to stop. There are other dangers faced by young people who drink. Here are some of the most common problems caused by alcohol abuse among teens:
- School problems: A night of hard drinking may result in a slightly more comfortable morning for a teen than an adult, but it will still make them foggy, exhausted, and probably nauseous. They may have troubles with their studies and grades and miss school as a result.
- Sexual or physical assault: Alcohol lowers inhibitions and causes poor judgment. Teens can have a propensity to give in to pressures to have sex, become (or be rendered) unconscious, and get raped while they are out. They can have emotional ups and downs that cause them to hurt the people around them. Additionally, they may feel they were not at fault for assaulting another person because they were drunk. Unwanted pregnancies are also a very real issue related to teen drinking and the poor judgment that invariably goes with it.
- Lost friends: While drinking with buddies may make a teenager more popular at a party, they still have to face up to whatever they did at the party. Alcohol causes bad judgment and a young person may give in to peer pressure while drinking. They might try a dangerous stunt, ride with a drunk driver, or drive while drunk. These bad decisions are likely to create trust issues among friends. A young person can lose good friends while choosing friends with equally poor decision-making skills. Underage drinking can have tragic and life-changing consequences.
- Unintentional injuries: With poor coordination and bad judgment often come injuries. Whether from falling down stairs, walking into things, or a full-on car accident, alcohol-related injuries are extremely common. According to the CDC, teens are more likely to have a car crash at any blood alcohol level than older drivers. Also, in a 2010 survey, 22% of American teen drivers involved in fatal car accidents were drinking.
- Brain damage: Research shows that underage drinking doesn’t just affect the teen at the time the drink is consumed. Using alcohol before the age of 14 increases the risk of alcohol use disorders. Because the teenage brain is still developing, underage drinkers are more likely to damage the parts of their brains that help with learning and memory. This can harm a young person’s performance in school and can affect his or her ability to learn for the rest of their life.
- Abuse of other, harder drugs: Alcohol is a gateway drug. This means that an individual abusing alcohol is more likely to try other drugs such as cocaine, opiates, psychotropic pills, methamphetamine, etc. Mixing alcohol with cannabis, prescription drugs, and other substances is likewise dangerous, yet very commonplace.
Underage drinking is connected with strife and upset involving fighting, emotional trauma, and jealousy – often amongst friends and family members. It also results in tragedies and fatalities from overdose (alcohol poisoning), accidents, suicide, and homicide.
How Can You Prevent Underage Drinking?
Stopping kids from using alcohol is a problem that plagues government around the world and prevention organizations like SADD, DARE, and Youth to Youth. If you are concerned about underage drinking in your community, be sure to contact a local organization and see what you can do to help.
Educate the young people around you. Set a good example. Talk to your children and the young people you know about the realities of underage drinking. When kids learn the truth about drugs and alcohol, they tend to make sensible decisions. Always be sure your kids can call you any time night or day if they feel they are in any trouble relating to drugs or alcohol. You would much rather prefer picking them up at midnight or 3:00AM than finding out they rode with a drunk or stoned driver.
You can make a difference.