“In 1991, a study by the United States Surgeon General’s office stated that 8 million out of the 20.7 million young people in grades 7 through 12 drank alcoholic beverages every week. It went on to say that 454,000 of those youngsters reported weekly binges (Claypool 21).” In the United States and all over the world underage teens are drinking, and it may be because they just don’t know about alcohol and its effects (Monroe 56). Underage or teen drinking is a major problem today that is increasing more and more, and something needs to be done to stop this increase and to control the number of underage drinkers.
There are many statistics that show just how big this problem is amongst our youth. One frightening statistic that shows how much this problem has been increasing is that between 1948 and 1988 the percent of teen drinkers increased by 57 percent (Nielsen 47). Many parents may think that their child may not drink until they are much older, but the average age that teenagers try alcohol is between the ages twelve and sixteen (9). Also, a 1995 study taken by the University of Michigan stated that 35 out of 100 high school seniors drank 5 or more drinks at one time at least once during their two week survey period (Claypool 10). “ A recent poll by the National Association
of Student Councils found that alcohol was the leading school problem and 46 percent [of students] said it was the school’s most serious problem
(Monroe 53).” This may be because alcohol is very dangerous because it is a poisonous drug that can be very addictive (Mitchell 6).
In order to help solve this problem of underage drinking we must first try to understand why teens drink alcohol. There are many reasons why a young teen may choose to drink alcohol. A national survey, taken in 1995, showed that 87 percent of parents thought that teens drank because of peer pressure, but 79 percent of teenagers said it was just because they liked the feeling they got when they drank (27). The main reason and the biggest reason why teens drink would probably have to be peer pressure, but there are many other reasons other than peer pressure why a teen might drink.
“In addition to peer influences, some experts believe that media depiction of alcohol use in print advertising, television and radio commercials, and fictional television programs such as sitcoms and dramatic series glamorizes alcohol to young people and can influence their decision to drink (Mitchell 28).” The media today is very influential, and by viewing alcohol being glamorized some teens think that it is acceptable to drink. Many teenagers are fascinated by some of the alcohol commercials on television such as the comedic Budweiser ads, and researchers believe that this fascination may lead them to try the product being advertised (30).
Peer pressure is a huge issue for a teenager these days and it affects many decisions a teen might make. Being a teen can be an awkward situation, and in order to fit in and feel less awkward teens might start to drink, but what they don’t know is that it may not be so easy to stop (Landau 52). Some teens would do anything to “be cool” so if the “cool” teens told them drink, they might just be pressured into doing so as well (Nielsen 53).
Many times peer pressure and social situations seem to be similar in that they both can cause a teenager to do something they normally wouldn’t do. The only difference is that with peer pressure he or she is forced to make a decision and with social situations, the teen makes the decision. A teen’s social environment can also lead him to start drinking. For example, a teen might try drinking in order to loosen up or to be less shy, and if he thinks that he did loosen up he might want to do it again (Mitchell 25). Many social situations such as a party or school function may present the opportunity to drink, and if teens see that everybody else is drinking they might do it too (27). Sometimes a teen boy might drink so that he can impress his friends by drinking a lot, and show then that he is a “real man” (Landau 53).
Teenagers might also choose to drink because they have emotional or family problems. Many teens may drink to escape from their emotional problems such as depression and anxiety (53). The root of their emotional problems may be their family. Parents play a big part in a teen’s decision to drink and if a teen’s parents use alcohol, their child may want to do so as well so that they can be like their mom or dad (Nielsen 54). A young teenager might think that if they drink they would be more mature, and they may do it to feel older or to be like someone older (Claypool 53). If the parents of the teen aren’t responsible or if they just don’t care if their child drinks, they may even give their child alcohol, and this can start that teen on drinking alcohol (Nielsen 54).
It is easy to see that there are many causes of teenage drinking, but there are far more problems caused by drinking than reasons a teen could give as to why he or she drinks. Antonia Novello, former Surgeon General of the United States, had to say this about teen drinking: ”The use of alcohol by young people can lead to serious health consequences far beyond those well known about drinking and driving-the likes of absenteeism, vandalism, date rape, truancy, theft and random violence, to name a few (Pringle 77).” The many problems caused by teenage drinking are not just limited to physical problems the teen might have due to drinking alcohol but there also many emotional, mental, and social problems caused by teenage drinking.
Teenage drinking can cause many health problems. There are many diseases and disorders that can be linked to drinking. Alcohol can cause many diseases such as cirrhosis, which is caused by alcohol burning the liver and scaring it (Clayton 31). Eventually, this scaring will lead the liver to stop functioning, killing the person who has this disease (31). When someone has cirrhosis the can’t break down alcohol and toxins, and if the person continues to drink alcohol it can get so bad that they can’t break down toxins from everyday food and they’ll eventually die (Pringle 20).
Cirrhosis isn’t the only condition caused by alcohol. Alcohol can also cause a person to get the delirium tremens, which causes the person to shake and hallucinate, and this condition can also be fatal (Clayton 32). “Wet brains” is another condition in which an alcoholic can’t think clearly and can’t take care of himself (Claypool 83). He or she must then be permanently institutionalized (83). The health risks due to alcohol are not just limited to diseases. They can also cause other health risks in general. “Since alcohol is a poison, or toxin, it stimulates the heart to beat more rapidly in an effort to get rid of the poison. This increases blood pressure. Drinking several ounces of alcohol a day can cause constant high blood pressure (hypertension). This stress on the heart can lead to heart failure (Pringle 19).”
Alcohol can cause many problems other than health problems. It can cause many mental and psychological problems. According to Dr. John Wallace, Medical Director of Edgehill Newport Clinic, the destruction of brain cells due to alcoholism unables the brain from thinking clearly (Clayton 34). Another problem caused by teen drinking involves risky behavior (Mitchell 47). A teen that has drunk alcohol is more likely to engage in risky behavior, such as sexual activity, than someone who is sober (Mitchell 47).
Out of the many problems caused by teen drinking the biggest one is probably drunk driving (40). Teenagers are twice as likely to be involved in alcohol related car accidents than adults over 30 years of age (Landau 27). It estimated that 41 percent of fatal car accidents in 1995 were in some way connected with alcohol (Mitchell 40). Also, in 1995 there were 17,274 deaths due to alcohol related car accidents (Claypool 37). “Drunk driving is the number one killer of people aged 15 to 24 (37).”
There are many ways to treat the problem of teen alcoholism
and to prevent this problem from happening to teens at all. According to Derek Miller, a professor of adolescent psychiatry at Northwestern University, parents who set a good example for their children is a good way to prevent their children from abusing alcohol (Monroe 90). He says that children tend to mimic their parents, and if the parents don’t drink, their children probably wont either (90). Others say that knowledge is the key to help teens with drinking problems (Pringle 98). They say that learning the truth will help teens with their problems (98).
Many teens are not able to stop on their own so they need someone to help them. Because teens need someone to help them, there have been many self-help programs and organizations set up to help. For many teens self-help programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) might be the best way to get help (Landau 77). In Alcoholics Anonymous, people help each other with their drinking problems by offering each other support and advice (Pringle 101). In addition to Alcoholics Anonymous, many churches and synagogues may have self-help groups to help people with their alcoholism problems (Clayton 49). At many alcohol treatment groups they ask you to take a simple test to see if you have a problem with alcohol (Luks 147). They ask you not to drink when everyone else is drinking and then to see if you feel comfortable like that (147).
Also, today we are seeing more programs like Student Assistance Programs where schools get involved and help teens with their alcohol problems (Landau 74). Schools are trying to help in anyway they can now. In fact there is a new program in Minnesota called Sobriety High, where young teen alcoholics can recover and get help with others of their same age (Mitchell 68). Sobriety High is a 6-year high school (69). The students there et no homework but they still get the same amount of education as all other public high school students (69).
Hopefully, by using these alcohol treatment programs and all other means to help stop teenagers from drinking we will cut down on the problem of underage drinking and prevent many problems that may occur due to underage drinking. Maybe by stopping the problem of teen drinking, we will stop other problems such as crime as well. For example, in California it was proven that an increase of alcoholism treatment results in a decrease in crime (Mitchell 72). In the past few years the problem of teen drinking has started to decrease, but we need to make sure it continues to do so in the future.