While the United States’ official drinking age is 21, this statute has not stopped younger people from getting their hands on some drinks. From fake IDs to having an ‘older’ person go for an alcohol run, the youth has always been creative with drinking. While their efforts are laudable, these have led to an epidemic that is underage drinking.
Underage drinking is one of the biggest health problems in the United States. With the youth favoring alcohol, a lot of teens and adolescents are suffering from the consequences of alcoholism all too soon.
Despite the dangers, American youths continue to drink with much gusto. In fact, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has shown that as much as 75% of the surveyed 12th graders have admitted to drinking. The trend persists in younger people, with 67% of 10th graders – and 40% of 8th graders – having tried alcohol at least once in their lives.
Compared to adults, underage drinkers tend to drink more – finishing up to 5 drinks at a given time. As much as 29% of the surveyed 12th graders admit to binge drinking, which is defined as the consumption of more than 5 drinks in men – and 4 drinks in women.
Why Adolescents Drink
As they transition from childhood to adolescence, individuals experience a bevy of life changes. Physically, their bodies mature. Mentally and emotionally, they get to experience thoughts and feelings that are unfamiliar to them. As such, these changes put the adolescent at risk of underage drinking.
Adolescents see alcohol drinking as a pleasurable experience.
A person’s mindset about alcohol is developed at quite an early age – 9 years old. At this age, alcohol is generally seen as bad. However, as an adolescent enters age 13, the perceptions change. Some begin to view drinking as a rather pleasurable experience. Unfortunately, these are the youths that are more likely to consume alcohol.
Adolescents have a more ‘positive’ response to alcohol.
The adolescent brain and the adult brain are different. Younger people respond to alcohol differently. They tend to binge drink since they don’t experience the negative effects of alcohol right away. Additionally, adolescents are said to be more receptive to the positive effects of alcohol. It can easily put the person at ease, and because of this, adolescents prefer to drink in social situations.
Adolescents are inherent risk-takers.
The brain continues to develop until you reach your 20s. Unfortunately, this long gap can contribute to the risky behaviors that adolescents continue to demonstrate. For them, there’s a huge thrill in experimenting with ‘illegal’ substances, such as alcohol and drugs. With the developmental changes that they go through, adolescents are more likely to act impulsively – without thinking about the consequences that drinking may bring.
Adolescents with alcoholic family members are more likely to engage in underage drinking.
There’s a saying that goes that An apple does not fall far from the tree. That holds true with regard to alcoholism. According to Edenberg and Foroud, alcohol dependence can run in families. This can be attributed to the presence of the genes ADH1B and ALDH2, which are linked with alcoholism. As such, underage drinking is most likely to occur in an adolescent who belongs to a family of alcoholics.
Adolescents with certain conditions are more predisposed to drink alcohol.
Sadly, research suggests that kids with certain conditions are more likely to drink at a younger age. These are the ones who are hyperactive, disruptive, aggressive, rebellious, or antisocial. Similarly, those who are depressed, anxious, and withdrawn may easily turn to the bottle as well.
Adolescents can be easily influenced by the environment.
While nurture plays a role in underage drinking, nature proves to be a strong factor as well. For one, if an adolescent is surrounded by peers who consume alcohol, then he is more likely to mirror this as well.
Today’s media has also been blamed for the rise of underage drinking in the United States. A study by Curtis et al. has shown that alcohol-related social media posts may prod a young person to drink. These platforms can be accessed easily, and such may explain why American teens consume alcohol at a younger age.
The Consequences of Underage Drinking
Underage Drinkers are More Likely to Become Alcoholic Adults
Underage drinking now is worse than before. Whereas the average was 17 years old in 1965, current research suggests that most start drinking at the ripe age of 14. This pattern of underage drinking often leads to more problems as they grow older. Studies even suggest that youths who start drinking at age 15 usually end up as alcohol-dependent adults.
Underage Drinking Leads to Premature Deaths
As per the NIAAA, about 5,000 individuals aged 21 and under die due to underage drinking annually. Motor vehicular accidents account for the most number of deaths. To wit, fatal crashes claim the lives of about 1,900 youths yearly. Homicides come in second with 1,600 deaths, with suicides following suit at 300 mortalities every year. A few hundred more suffer from other consequences of underage drinking, such as drownings, falls, and burns.
Underage Drinking is Harmful to Health
Underage drinking has a negative health impact on adolescents, as their bodies are just developing at this phase. It can impair the maturing brain, leading to thinking and memory problems. Hormone production may be disrupted as well, and such can result in growth and development problems.
Underage Drinking Can Result in School Problems
Underage drinkers are more likely to end up with bad grades (Ds and Fs). Such was reported in a study by Crosnoe et al. The authors have also linked underage drinking with loneliness and not fitting in at school.
Underage Binge Drinking Can Lead to High-Risk Behaviors
Binge drinking is a hobby of about 1 million American students. Unfortunately, this leads them to engage in high-risk behaviors such as illegal drug use and unprotected sex. The latter can lead to sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy, which can prove deleterious to the teen’s future.
Underage drinking is a major public health problem. If left untreated, it may lead to several health consequences. Apart from engaging in high-risk behaviors, adolescent drinkers have a higher tendency to perform worse in school. Underage drinkers may also develop health conditions that affect normal growth and development.
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